The ocean park announced that the mother of four, grandmother of six and great grandmother of two died at approximately 8:15 p.m. "surrounded by members of her pod, as well as the veterinarians and caretakers who loved her."
"All of us at SeaWorld are deeply saddened by this loss, but thankful for the joy she has brought us and more than 125 million park guests," the statement continued.
The 10 remaining killer whales currently living in the San Diego facility "appear to be doing well, but we're monitoring and watching for any changes in their behavior," SeaWorld said.
Kasatka's was captured off the coast of Iceland on October 26, 1978 when she was less than two years old. Conservation organization Dolphin Project notes that with her death, only three wild-caught orcas remain at SeaWorld parks in the United States—Ulysses and Corky in San Diego, and Katina in Orlando.
Kasatka had been undergoing treatment for lung disease after being diagnosed with a bacterial respiratory infection in 2008.
"Despite their best efforts, her health and appetite significantly declined over the past several days despite continually tailored treatments," SeaWorld said. "Kasatka's veterinarians and caretakers made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her to prevent compromising her quality of life."
However, questions remain about her passing. An article and photos posted by Dolphin Project in June showed Kasatka appearing lethargic and perhaps struggling with an infection from open lesions. Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove, a SeaWorld whistleblower who appeared in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, posted photos of the apparent injuries on social media.
He also tweeted last night, "I screamed for the media to demand an independent lab do the tests because they can't be trusted.They will never release her necropsy report"
Hargrove told Times of San Diego in June that SeaWorld was "doing everything known to science to keep her alive" to avoid another orca death in quick succession, including Kyara, who died in July at just 3 months old and was the last orca born in captivity at SeaWorld, and Tilikum, who died in January.
Tilikum was made famous in Blackfish for killing a SeaWorld trainer in Orlando. His story brought the issues surrounding captivity and the animal amusement industry into the national conversation.
Kasatka, who gave birth to Tilikum's son Nakai in 2001 through artificial insemination, has also shown aggression to humans. In 2006, she grabbed trainer Ken Peters underwater during a performance in California. Peters survived the incident and later said that the risks with working with the whales are "acceptable."
Following years of criticism, SeaWorld announced in May 2016 that it would cease all of its orca breeding programs. The company now cares for a total of 21 orcas at its three facilities in San Diego (10), Orlando (6) and San Antonio (5).
SeaWorld has posted a tribute video of Kasatka following her death. Watch here:
On the morning of Jan. 6, one of SeaWorld's most well-known orcas, Tilikum, passed away surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians at the Orlando, Florida ocean theme park where the famous killer whale lived most of his life.
Coincidentally on that same weekend, professional race car driver and environmental advocate Leilani Münter was in town to give a speech at a sustainability symposium. Tilikum's death particularly struck a chord; the longtime animal rights activist once drove a Blackfish-themed race car at the Talladega Superspeedway in 2014 to raise awareness about cetaceans in captivity.
So Sad! Infamous Killer Whale #Tilikum Dies in Captivity https://t.co/Q8d3uWjhlw @peta @HumaneSociety @Oceana @acousteau— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483904706.0
"Heartbroken" over the news and prompted by her chance proximity to the deceased whale, Münter drove to SeaWorld on the afternoon of Jan. 8 to pay her respects. She placed a sign and 33 roses—one for each year Tilikum spent in captivity—at the park entrance.
"May the four winds blow you safely to your ocean home where you've belonged all these 33 years," the sign read. "RIP Tilikum."
Münter's gesture, which she filmed and posted on Facebook Live, resulted in a trespass warning from the Orange County Sheriff's Office and an indefinite ban from not just the Orlando park but from all of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Properties, including Discovery Cove, Aquatica, Florida Festival, Places of Learning, Corporate Offices, Contact Center, Busch Gardens-Tampa and Adventure Island.
Let's all promise to get into some #GoodTrouble in 2017. https://t.co/3ocTRaPBgW— Leilani Münter (@Leilani Münter)1484536989.0
SeaWorld confirmed the incident to Speedway Digest. "The safety of our ambassadors and guests, and the welfare of our animals is always our top priority," said Vice President of Public Relations Aimée Jeansonne Becka.
Münter is not too bothered by the ban, saying she's "not a huge fan" of the park anyway. However, she told EcoWatch that it's "ridiculous" that the company considered her a safety threat to park visitors.
"I wasn't making a ruckus. It was just so harmless," she said, noting that she did not shout at anyone or use a loudspeaker and did not resist detainment. She has also posted a full statement about the incident on social media.
The official complaint states, "Subject was mourning loss of orca on property w/roses and sign without permission."
Here's the official SeaWorld complaint against me to Orange County Sheriff's Office banning me from all their prope… https://t.co/PcZFfUP1vl— Leilani Münter (@Leilani Münter)1483939459.0
The 42-year-old racer is currently back home in Charlotte, North Carolina. When asked about her brush with SeaWorld security, she told EcoWatch that she wanted to pay respect to Tilikum's life.
"He's one of many orcas that has lived a miserable life in captivity but his story is somewhat exceptional," describing how the 2013 documentary Blackfish was about Tilikum's life and "the plight of captivity."
"It's wrong to pull these magnificent animals that are emotionally complex and live in tight-knit family groups from the wild. To force them to live this horrific life in this tiny pool doing tricks for food I think is just wrong," she said.
"We can see these animals in their magnificence in the wild, and isn't that a much more beautiful way to see these animals instead of seeing them in a cage or jumping through hoops?"
SeaWorld's parking lot outlined in yellow, their orca habitat is outlined in blue. This is wrong. #EmptyTheTanks https://t.co/bvitRG7OHS— Leilani Münter (@Leilani Münter)1484519730.0
Tilikum was brought to SeaWorld 25 years ago and died at the estimated age of 36. In March, SeaWorld announced the end of the orca breeding program, meaning the whales currently at SeaWorld will be the last generation of orcas under human care.
Münter will return to the Daytona International Speedway in the ARCA Racing Series season opener on Feb. 18 in the first-ever vegan-themed race car for Venturini Motorsports. Münter adopts an acre of rainforest for every race she's in, a tradition she started back in 2007.
Check out the ride in the video here:
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.