Last killer whale born at SeaWorld

Sea World's Takara, foreground, gave birth to the last killer whale to be born in captivity at SeaWorld. The company based in Orlando, Fla., announced the birth Wednesday.

SeaWorld welcomed its final killer whale born in captivity in San Antonio on Wednesday. The amusement park giant announced a year ago it will end its orca breeding program and stop the shows after pressure from animal rights advocates and public perception following the release of the film 'Blackfish'.

The calf will be the last orca to live in SeaWorld's care.

Researchers have said they worry that SeaWorld's decision to stop breeding orcas will slowly reduce their ability to study orca health, growth and behavior, limiting them in coming years to collecting data from a small pod of aging whales. The gestation period for killer whales is between 17 and 18 months.

SeaWorld did not immediately name the calf because the park's veterinarians had not yet determined whether it was male or female.

"This is the last one, and that makes this a particularly big deal", SeaWorld Chief Zoological Officer Chris Dold said of Wednesday afternoon's birth.

"PETA is calling on SeaWorld to spare (Takara's) fifth calf a lifetime of suffering in prison by retiring both mother and child to a seaside sanctuary, where the baby may someday be reunited with Takara's mother, other children, and grandchildren", the organization said in a statement Wednesday.

As NPR's Greg Allen has reported, SeaWorld's treatment of its orcas came under scrutiny with the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish. It focused on the orca Tilikum, which killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando in 2010, dragging her into the pool before shocked visitors after a "Dine with Shamu" show.

Total park attendance for 2016 fell by about 2.1 percent for the year as the company's Florida and northeast park locations hit a major slump, according to the company's own accounting. SeaWorld will continue to care for the orcas and research them, minus the shows.

The gender of Taraka's calf hasn't been confirmed, and it has not been named yet. One of SeaWorld's parks is in San Diego. Most of the whales now on display were born, and have lived their entire lives, in captivity at SeaWorld.

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