In this image provided by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, orca Takara accompanies her newborn baby to the water in SeaWorld San Antonio, Wednesday, 19 April 2017, in San Antonio.
(Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP)
MIAMI – The last orca was born in captivity at a SeaWorld park in San Antonio, Texas, little more than a year after the theme park decided to stop the breeding of orcas in the following animal rights protests and declining ticket sales.
The Orlando-based company said that the orca — the latest in a generation of whales bred in captivity, born on Wednesday afternoon. SeaWorld did not immediately have the name of the calf because of the park’s veterinarians have not yet determined whether it is a man or a woman.
The mother, 25-year-old Takara, was already pregnant when SeaWorld announced in March 2016, and that it was stopped with the breeding of the orcas. The gestation period for orcas is around 18 months.
The preparation of the end of last month for the event, SeaWorld’s chief zoological officer, Chris Dold, told The Associated Press that he expected that the birth will be bittersweet, because it would be the last such event in one of the parks. But just hours after the calf was born around 3:30 pm EDT Wednesday, Dold said, SeaWorld staff only felt celebrate. SeaWorld said the mother and calf both seem healthy.
“These are special moments,” he said, speaking by telephone while traveling to the US. of Abu Dhabi, where SeaWorld is the development of the first new park without orcas. “It is a subdued celebration only because we are focused on the health of these boys.”
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SeaWorld decided to stop the breeding of orcas, and to phase out the world-famous killer whale shows in 2019, after the public opinion turned against keeping orcas, dolphins and other animals in captivity for entertainment. The resistance intensified after the 2013 release of “Blackfish,” a documentary critical of SeaWorld’s orca care. It focuses on the orca Tilikum, who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando in 2010, dragging her to the swimming pool, before shocked visitors after a “Dine with Shamu” show.
Tilkum, who has a daughter of 14 calves during almost 25 years in Orlando, died of bacterial pneumonia in January.
The newborn calf was a daughter of Kyuquot (pronounced ky YOO kit) on the San Antonio park with natural resources. It brings SeaWorld’s orca population in the U.S. to 23. All the orcas are expected to remain on display and available to researchers for the coming years in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.
SeaWorld has said that the plans of the introduction of the new “natural orca encounters” instead of theatrical shows. This summer, the San Diego park will unveil a new educational attraction in a new swimming pool and new orca attractions will eventually follow in San Antonio and Orlando.
The calf is visible for the visitors in the orca stadium pool in San Antonio park, or in two adjacent pools. Comments about the calf and Takara by SeaWorld trainers will be provided from the moment of the birth of researchers to fill gaps in their data about wild orcas.
Dold said veterinarians at the San Antonio park told him that the calf was born normally tail first, after about an hour and a half of smooth labor. Both the orcas swimming peacefully, including the taking of breath at the water surface, and trainers would look for the calf to begin nursing.
“Mom, in general, will the rest but they can’t rest too much …. mama’s not holding on to the calf, but it is riding in its slipstream, and that is how it is,” Dold said. “Our expectation is that this all goes smoothly, but we take that for granted.”
Birth control and “social management” to prevent future orca pregnancies, said the spokeswoman, Suzanne Pelisson Beasley. SeaWorld has not collected a wild orca in almost 40 years, and most of the orcas were born in captivity.
Researchers have said that they ensure that SeaWorld’s decision to stop the breeding of orcas will slowly reduce their ability to study orca health, growth, and behavior, which is limited in the coming years to collect data from a small pod of ageing whales.
Heather Hill, St. Mary’s University comparative psychologist who plans to monitor the sleeping habits of Takara and her calf in the coming year, said that it was frustrating to see possibilities for the investigation of SeaWorld undermined by the public opinion center of the federal cuts in science funding.
“This will be one of the first times that we are able to be not only a mother with a newborn calf, but also a newborn calf with brothers and sisters,” Hill said.
This is a Takara fifth calf. Two of her other offspring remain with the San Antonio park, while one lives in SeaWorld Orlando, another is on loan to a park in Tenerife, Spain. SeaWorld currently has no plans to separate, Takara and the new baby in the future, or to any of the other orcas, Dold said.
In March, Dold said SeaWorld remains committed to the orca research and conservation, the call for the recent orca birth in captivity, “a solemn reminder of how things can change and how things can be lost.”