Last SeaWorld orca to be born in captivity arrives

SeaWorld welcomed its final killer whale born in captivity in San Antonio on Wednesday.

Last year, SeaWorld said it would stop breeding killer whales and halt its orca shows by 2019 following protests by animal-rights groups, The Associated Press reported. The mother, 25-year-old Takara, was already pregnant last year when SeaWorld stopped the breeding program. Gestation for orcas lasts about 18 months.

Both Takara and her calf appear to be healthy and doing well at the San Antonio theme park, the Daily Mail reports.

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SeaWorld's chief zoological officer, Chris Dold, described the birth as one of those "extraordinary moments".

"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", SeaWorld added. This includes a commitment of $10 million in matching funds dedicated to killer whale research and the creation of a multi-million dollar partnership focused on ocean health, the leading concern for all killer whales and marine mammals.

SeaWorld had to shift its entire operation after the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" shed light on the lives of orcas in captivity. In the near future, SeaWorld San Antonio plans to let visitors observe Takara, who's 25, as well as her calf.

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All of the remaining orca whales will remain on display and be made available for researchers for many years to come at SeaWorld's San Antonio, San Diego, and Orlando locations.

SeaWorld has said it plans to introduce new "natural orca encounters" in place of theatrical shows.

Researchers are now able to study how a baby orca reacts around siblings because two of Takara's other calves are also housed at the San Antonio theme park. Two are with her in San Diego, one is in Orlando and another is on loan to a theme park in Spain. Veterinarian teams at each theme park will use both birth control and "social management" to prevent the 23 remaining orca whales from breeding while in captivity.

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SeaWorld's vice president of veterinary services, Dr. Hendrik Nollens, it will be the last chance for researchers to study orca development in ways that can not be done in the wild.

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