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Environment

SeaWorld’s Last Baby Whale Was Just Born

SeaWorld’s newest whale doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s already famous.  

On Wednesday afternoon, Takara, the 25-year-old matriarch of the orca whale pod at the SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas, gave birth to a calf that will be the last SeaWorld raises in captivity, NPR reported.

“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” Chris Bellows, SeaWorld’s vice president of zoological operations, said in a statement.

Take Action: Call on the UK Prime Minister to Protect the World’s Oceans

Whales are typically pregnant for a year and half before giving birth, which means Takara was already pregnant when SeaWorld announced it would stop breeding orcas in March 2016.  

Still, the park plans to keep its current generation of orcas for years to come, claiming that killer whales raised under the supervision of humans will likely die in the wild.

“These majestic orcas will not be released into the ocean, nor confined to sea cages,” the announcement said. “They could not survive in oceans to compete for food, be exposed to unfamiliar diseases or to have to deal with environmental concerns – including pollution and other man-made threats.”

Heather Hill, a St. Mary’s University comparative psychologist who will be part of the group monitoring Takara and her calf in the coming year, supported keeping whales in captivity, citing the scientific opportunities the newborn calf brings which will soon be lost.

“This will be one of the first times we’ll be able to see not just a mother with a newborn calf but also a newborn calf with siblings,” Hill told the New York Daily News.

Read More: 9 Surprising Facts About Whales, the Ocean’s Largest Mammal

But SeaWorld’s decision to stop breeding whales is well-founded.

The park has been the subject of intense public scrutiny in recent years, due in great part to the 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” which tells the story of Tilikum, a SeaWorld orca that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau and was implicated in two other deaths, in addition to violent behavior against trainers and other whales.

Former trainers blame SeaWorld for knowingly putting trainers in harm’s way and for spreading myths about the supposed “benefits” of keeping animals in captivity (e.g. collapsed dorsal fins and quality of life).

The park saw profits plummet by 84% in 2015, the Guardian reported.

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SeaWorld is not alone in facing controversy for keeping animals in captivity.  

Across the world, zoos simply don’t provide enough space for animals to live. Beyond failing to provide basic necessities of life, other egregious offenses include trafficking animals poached in the wild, and allowing a bear to die because zoo officials thought it was hibernating and didn’t feed it.  

A zoo in Copenhagen, Denmark euthanized and dissected a giraffe in front of an audience that included children in February 2014, despite a massive campaign to save the animal.

The world’s saddest polar bear, named Pizza, lives in a mall in southeast China.

SeaWorld hasn’t collected orcas from the wild in nearly four decades but it currently has 23 orcas, including the newborn, divided amongst three parks in San Diego, Calif., Orlando, Fla., and San Antonio, NPR reported.

Park officials have yet to determine the calf’s gender and thus have not given it a name. Whatever the whale is ultimately called, it will likely be last chance for SeaWorld goers to see an orca raised from infancy.

Then again, maybe we never should have had the opportunity in the first place.