The last baby killer whale to be born at a SeaWorld theme park has made its debut.
The company said it welcomed its newest aqua-animal when Takara, the 25-year-old matriarch of the SeaWorld San Antonio killer whale pod, gave birth to the calf Wednesday afternoon.
Takara was already pregnant when the company in March 2016 announced that it would be ending its breeding program for killer whales, which are also known as orcas. The program had come under criticism from animal-rights activists, especially since a 2013 documentary claimed that captivity was harmful to orcas. In addition to ending the breeding program, the company said in 2015 that it would be ending its killer whale shows by 2019.
“A team of veterinarians and killer whale trainers witnessed the historic birth and are continuing to monitor Takara and her new baby 24-hours a day to help ensure a successful start,” said a SeaWorld statement.
"Although this will be the last opportunity for SeaWorld guests to see a baby killer whale up close as it grows and matures, SeaWorld will continue to care for the orcas at its parks for decades to come," the company said.
According to the San Antonio Express News, SeaWorld believes Kyuquot, one of two male orcas at the park, is the father, but officials will need to do a paternity test to know for sure. There are 25 orcas at the facility.
SeaWorld’s chief zoological officer, Chris Dold told the paper that the calf was born normally — tail first — after about an hour and a half of labor. Its sex has yet to be determined.
“We take our lead from mom,” said Julie Sigman, an assistant curator at the park, in terms of finding out its gender. “Takara will let us know when she is ready for us to meet the calf and begin developing a trusting relationship, just like we have with Takara. In the meantime, we let Takara be the awesome mom she is caring for her baby’s every need.”
Meanwhile, the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told NBC News that it was calling on SeaWorld to "retire" Takara and her calf "to a seaside sanctuary, where they may someday be reunited with Takara's mother, other children, and grandchildren."
2017 USA TODAY