The last orca bred in captivity under SeaWorld's highly criticized breeding program has died.
Yesterday, July 25, the park announced that a three-month-old calf born in April, called Kyara, had died at SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas. Kyara was the 40th orca to die under SeaWorld’s watch and the third of their killer whale's to die in 18 months.
SeaWorld ended its orca breeding program in March 2016. It's likely that Kyara’s mother, Takara, had just become pregnant with her when SeaWorld made this decision since the gestation period of an orca is between 12 to 15 months.
The exact cause of death isn’t confirmed and the results of the post-mortem could take several weeks to be completed. However, the calf was being treated for a serious case of pneumonia in the days running up to her death. SeaWorld claims the animal’s pneumonia was not caused by living in captivity, saying it is “the most common cause of mortality and illness in whales in dolphins, both in the wild and in zoological facilities.”
“We’ve also had a lot of questions about how the orca pod in San Antonio is doing. We’ve checked in with the trainers, veterinarians and staff who all say that Takara and the orca pod are doing well,” Seaworld said in a statement.
"They have been active all day and are engaging with the trainers, and we will continue to monitor any changes in their behavior.”
The breeding program was shut down after a massive change in public opinion. Much of this was thanks to the release of the BAFTA-nominated documentary "Blackfish” which exposed ethical concerns about keeping killing whales in captivity. They also pledged to phase out their highly controversial live orca shows and replace them with a more educational experience involving the animals. The recent news of Kyara appears to have stoked the fire once again among animal rights activists.
“SeaWorld is insane- continuing to say their orcas are healthy and thriving despite death after death from illness & disease,” tweeted John Hargrove, a former orca trainer at SeaWorld who appeared in the documentary Blackfish.
He added: “It's an absolute insult to every one of us that they keep saying 'healthy and thriving' as they are dying from disease right in front of us”