It's an Orca! Last Killer Whale is Born at a SeaWorld Park

More than a year after SeaWorld said it would stop breeding orcas in captivity, the theme park chain announced the birth of its final killer whale calf.

Takara, the 25-year-old orca that gave birth to the last captive-bred orca, was already pregnant when SeaWorld announced plans to end its breeding program last March.

Guests at SeaWorld San Antonio will have the opportunity to visit and observe Takara and her calf in the near future during select times.

The calf was born after an 18-month gestation and is estimated to weigh between 300 and 350 pounds (136 and 159 kg) and measure between 6 and 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters), SeaWorld said.

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Animal rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said SeaWorld should move Takara and her calf from their tank to an "ocean sanctuary", an area of sea enclosed by nets.

SeaWorld's chief zoological officer, Chris Dold, told The Associaetd Press that calf and mother were swimming calmly after a smooth labor. The pair will provide data and samples to studies focused on killer whale growth and metabolism.

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". The program had come under criticism from animal-rights activists, especially since a 2013 documentary claimed that captivity was harmful to orcas. She previously given birth to four other calves - two of them are at SeaWorld San Antonio.

SeaWorld has said it plans to introduce new "natural orca encounters" in place of theatrical shows. "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". It brings SeaWorld's orca population in the U.S.to 23. Observations about the calf and Takara by SeaWorld trainers will be provided from the moment of birth to researchers trying to fill gaps in their data about wild killer whales. One of her calves has been loaned out to a park in Spain, and another one lives at the company's Florida theme park, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

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