SeaWorld announced that its last baby orca was born at its San Antonio park on Wednesday, marking an end to its breeding program.
An orca named Takara was already pregnant when SeaWorld announced in March 2016 that it was ending its killer whale breeding program, reported the San Antonio Express-News. A 2013 documentary and animal rights activists called the breeding program into question, charging that killer whales were harmed in captivity.
SeaWorld said in a statement that a team of veterinarians and animal care specialists witnessed the birth and has the newborn under surveillance.
"This is an exciting and emotional day for us at SeaWorld and we are all so proud to share this new killer whale calf with the world, after a year and a half of planning, and observing and providing all the special care," Chris Bellows, SeaWorld San Antonio's vice president of zoological operations said in the statement.
"Takara is a great mom and immediately began bonding with and caring for her new baby. Everyday she inspires SeaWorld's guests to learn more about and do more to protect animals in the wild. She is a true ambassador," Bellows continued.
SeaWorld theme parks faced ongoing challenges since the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" was critical of the treatment of orcas at its Orlando park, noted the Express-News. Attendance dropped by 471,000 visitors in 2016, a 2.1 percent drop from 2015.
SeaWorld also posted a net loss of $12.5 million, or 15 cents a share, for 2016 — compared with $49.1 million in profit, or 57 cents a share, the previous year.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on SeaWorld to turn over the newborn to an ocean sanctuary rather than having it grow and mature at the theme park.
"PETA is calling on SeaWorld to spare (Takara's) fifth calf a lifetime of suffering in prison by retiring both mother and child to a seaside sanctuary, where the baby may someday be reunited with Takara's mother, other children, and grandchildren," the organization said in a statement Wednesday.
"… The company must do the right thing and spare the orca's suffering, and send them to a sea sanctuary. They must not allow this baby to swim in endless circles in tiny tanks for decades," the statement continued.
Dr. Hendrik Nollens, vice president of veterinary services for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said that the park's effort to understand and protect the species will last for "decades to come."
"Takara and her calf are an important part of not only educating the visitors who see them at the parks, but also ongoing research that helps marine biologists understand how to better care for and protect orcas in the wild," Nollens said in the park's statement. "We are very pleased that this birth will be able to continue to add to this body of knowledge for this iconic species."
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