Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

SeaWorld Welcomes Last Killer Whale Baby

Say hello to the newest addition at SeaWorld San Antonio, a baby orca!

SeaWorld now has 23 orcas among its three centers in San Diego, Calif., Orlando, Fla. and San Antonio, spokesman David Koontz told NPR via email.

SeaWorld announced that its last baby orca was born at its San Antonio park on Wednesday, marking an end to its breeding program. The orca's birth Wednesday afternoon comes in the wake of a 2016 decision by the Florida-based company to stop breeding killer whales.

Last March, SeaWorld President Joel Manby said this would be "the last generation of orcas in our care".

The mother, 25-year-old Takara, was already pregnant last year when SeaWorld said it stopped the breeding program. A killer whale's pregnancy lasts roughly 18 months.

SeaWorld didn't immediately name the calf because the park's veterinarians had not yet determined whether it was male or female.

SeaWorld's chief zoological officer, Chris Dold, told The Associated Press by phone that the birth was one of those "extraordinary moments". "It's a tempered celebration only because we're focused on the health of these guys". Animal rights activists and the documentary about the theme park, Blackfish, generated intense controversy and sparked protests against the keeping of orcas, dolphins, and a myriad of other creatures, in captivity for entertainment purposes.

The film focused on an orca named Tilikum, who was involved in the deaths of three people. Information learned from Takara and her calf will add to SeaWorld's extensive database about killer whales and their calves, contributing to studies of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population off the coast of Washington, where they are threatened by pollution, overfishing and human development. Everyday she inspires SeaWorld's guests to learn more about and do more to protect animals in the wild. The ocra had previously given birth to four other calves - only two of them are still at SeaWorld San Antonio. He went on to say that SeaWorld would not free its orcas because the time spent in captivity meant they would likely die in open waters.

The gender of the calf will be confirmed at a later date, once Takara appears comfortable with allowing her trainers to meet her latest arrival.

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