PETA Urges SeaWorld to Allow Last Orca Mother to Give Birth in Seaside Sanctuary
Meet Takara, a 25-year-old pregnant orca living in SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas. Takara's newborn, expected to arrive in Spring 2017, will be the last remaining orca to live its life in SeaWorld's tanks after the ocean park announced in March it would end its captive orca breeding program after years of campaigning from animal welfare groups and concerned citizens.
But in a new push from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the animal rights group is calling on SeaWorld to allow Takara to give birth in a seaside sanctuary so that her calf will never have to see the inside of a concrete tank.
On its SeaWorld of Hurt website, PETA details the "tragic" story of Takara's life. In the wild, orcas often live with their mothers for life but Takara herself was born in captivity in SeaWorld San Diego in 1991. Her parents—Kasatka and Kotar—were caught in Iceland in 1978. Kasatka, Takara's mother, is currently at SeaWorld San Diego. Takara's father, Kotar, died in 1995 in San Antonio after a pool gate he was playing with accidentally closed onto his head and caused a fractured skull.
Takara has already given birth to four other calves, two of which were taken to other parks. Her daughter Kohana was born in 2002 when Takara was 11. At the age of 3, Kohana was transferred to the notorious Loro Parque in Spain in 2006. Her son, Trua, was born in 2005 and now lives in Florida. Takara's youngest children, Sakari and Kamea, born in 2010 and 2013 respectively, live with their mother in San Antonio.
In an Instagram video from Liberate Cetaceans, footage shot in December shows young Kamea possibly signaling to her mother, Takara, that she wants to nurse. Judging by the date the video was taken, is it likely that Takara was already pregnant. Liberate Cetaceans alleges that SeaWorld allowed Takara to get pregnant even though she was still nursing Kamea.
"Why did SeaWorld choose to breed (or allow to breed) a female with an already dependent calf?" the post reads. "What an incredibly immoral decision."
The post follows:
Takara is well known for being hormonal, unpredictable, and generally unpleasant during the early stages of pregnancy. This means Kamea will be at risk of being ignored and neglected or even attacked. When the new calf comes, Takara's focus will be on the calf and not Kamea. A still very dependent Kamea may find herself without her mother's affections/ attention and will have no other mature females to turn to for comfort. If Kamea is still nursing when the new calf comes along, not only will this put incredible stress on Takara, but this will also mean the calves are competing for milk.
On SeaWorld's own website, it states that "most killer whale calves born at SeaWorld generally nurse for about a year, but may continue to nurse occasionally for as long as two years. This corresponds with observations in the wild."
Crunching the math, Liberate Cetaceans brought attention to the frequency in which Takara has given birth while at SeaWorld's parks, a rate that appears to be unnatural in the wild.
In the wild females typically give birth to a calf every 6-10 years and have 4-6 calves in their lifetime. This will be Takara's fifth calf and (if born this year) her third calf in just 6 years! So many pregnancies close together will put a lot of pressure on her body. As wild females tend to have their first calf at 14/15 and Takara is 24 (first impregnated at 11) she should have only had 2 calves (maximum) at this point in her life, not 4 with another on the way! Takara had one Kohana taken from her when she was only 3, and was moved whilst pregnant away from her only male calf, Trua, who was also 3 at the time.
SeaWorld states on its website, "based on limited data collected from populations at sea and in zoological facilities, a female may bear a calf every 3 to 5 years. In some cases, a female may not have another calf for 10 years."
EcoWatch reached out to SeaWorld for comment on both PETA's campaign and the Liberate Cetaceans post. The company had not responded as of press time, but did respond via email Wednesday with this statement:
SeaWorld made historic decisions to make this the last generation of orca whales, end theatrical performances with the whales and partner with the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS]. Society has changed and we've changed with it. Unfortunately, it appears PETA hasn't.
Placing any of the orcas we care for into their proposed sea cages would expose them to disease, pollution and other man-made and natural disasters. PETA's ideas are simplistic and don't take into account that the majority of the whales at SeaWorld were born in human care or have spent almost their entire lives at our facilities. We're focusing our resources on real issues that help far more animals, like working with HSUS to fight commercial whaling, shark finning, and continuing our efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured and sick animals to the wild. Read more here.
SeaWorld has faced intense scrutiny ever since the 2013 documentary Blackfish exposed the plight of orcas in captivity. The film has sparked a massive public outcry against keeping these large creatures in small tanks since in the wild they swim up to 100 miles per day.
SeaWorld has previously said that their killer whales would not survive in the wild if they were to be released. "SeaWorld has not collected an orca from the wild in almost 40 years, and the vast majority of our orcas were born under human care. These orcas have never lived in the wild and could not survive in oceans that include environmental concerns such as pollution and other man-made threats."
Alongside its announcement to cease captive orca breeding, SeaWorld is also phasing out its theatrical "Shamu" show. Instead, SeaWorld visitors will get to see the orcas in redesigned pools that have a more naturalistic setting. Guests will get to observe the creatures through "educational encounters" starting in the San Diego park in 2017, followed by the parks in San Antonio and Orlando.
In a sad twist, around the same time SeaWorld made the two announcements, Tilikum, the killer whale at the center of the Blackfish, was found to be in deteriorating health. SeaWorld's teams are treating him for what they believe is a bacterial infection in his lungs, the company said on its Facebook page.