Animal rights activists have lambasted SeaWorld, a chain of US amusement parks famous for its circus-style killer whale shows, over the death of a 30-year-old orca, who was apparently killed by a mysterious illness.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has cried foul after a female orca, also known as a killer whale, died in captivity at Sea World in Orlando on Monday. The bus-sized cetacean predator named Kayla began feeling unwell on Saturday, with the park saying in a statement that it displayed “signs of discomfort.”
The veterinarians scrambled to determine the cause of her mysterious malady, but all was in vain. The condition of the otherwise healthy mammal deteriorated rapidly, resulting in her death at about 12.15 am Monday.
Up until Kayla drew her last breath, she was surrounded by caregivers working around the clock to sustain her, the park said in a statement, adding that “the entire SeaWorld family is deeply saddened by the loss.” The orca that was born in captivity “inspired generations of guests and employees to care and learn more about this amazing species,” it said.
It is hard to predict what effect Kayla’s passing will have on the remaining whales at the park, with SeaWorld saying that it is “possible” that other killer whales will be “socially” affected by it. The amusement park stressed they don’t expect any health-related issues.
Life expectancy for killer whales in the wild ranges between 50 and 80 years, akin to a lifespan of an average human.
Commenting on her death, Dr. Naomi Rose from the Animal Welfare Institute told the Orlando Sentinel that 30 years is an orca’s “prime of life.” “That’s like literally being a 30-year-old woman,” she said.
Kayla’s premature passing has caught attention of PETA, which alleged that her death, “well shy of her normal life expectancy,” was directly linked to the conditions she was forced to live in during all of her life.
Kayla was forced to move around the country from park to park & heartbreakingly lost babies over the years 💔 pic.twitter.com/DClMYXJmKg
— PETA (@peta) January 28, 2019
“After being hauled from park to park, performing tricks in chemically treated waters for a reward of dead fish, miscarrying a calf and losing another, and enduring forced artificial insemination, Kayla’s suffering has come to an end,” PETA tweeted.
The organization, which is the world’s largest – and arguably fiercest – animal rights group, said it would be holding two memorials for Kayla to raise awareness about “other orca prisoners,” while calling to release them into sanctuaries “as soon as possible.”
According to PETA’s count, Kayla has become the 42nd orca to die in SeaWorld’s tanks. Born in 1988 in SeaWorld San Antonio, she was repeatedly moved to different SeaWorld locations. She was torn away from her mother at the age of 3 and moved to Ohio, and then back to San Antonio, where she had her calf that later died. Kayla lived in an enclosure in Orlando, Florida, for the last 13 years.
PETA has long campaigned for the orcas kept in amusement parks to be released, arguing that SeaWorld “prioritized profit” over the animals’ well-being and failed to provide adequate care.
In 2016, it launched a petition calling for all killer whales to be released to sea sanctuaries and to end their exploitation at shows. The same year, SeaWorld pulled the plug on its controversial breeding program, with the last orca being born in its tank in April 2017.
The decision to end the long-running program came on the back of the documentary Blackfish. The 2013 film by Gabriela Cowperthwaite tells the story of a whale handler killed by an orca named Tilikum in 2010. The documentary alleges that whales are stressed up to a breaking point in captivity and during forced breeding. The backlash saw visitor numbers plummeting and SeaWorld rebranding itself as a nature conservation park.
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