Reports emerging from San Diego have confirmed that Kalia, the nine-year-old Orca at Seaworld San Diego is pregnant. Following an ultrasound that surfaced last week on YouTube, the news has now been confirmed.
SeaWorld has gone through a tumultuous year, facing harsh criticism from animal rights activists and common viewers of the Blackfish documentary that was originally aired on CNN last October. The documentary focused on the death of a former employee, and highlighted mistreatment of the Orcas. It drew heavy backlash, resulting in major boycotts of the park and a huge dip in attendance in their Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego locations. Stock dipped 25 percent in 2013, with more than one million fewer visitors in 2013 than had visited the park in 2014.
SeaWorld has fired back in recent weeks in attempt to restore their image, but the timing of the pregnant killer whale is sure to raise more eyebrows among the animal rights crowd. Kalia is the offspring of Katsaka, a killer whale who nearly killed her trainer in an incident in San Diego in 2006. PETA director, Jared Goodman has also voiced concern in regard to the pregnancy, saying that a nine-year-old is too young for breeding, stating that Orca’s in the wild would not give birth at such a young age.
Part of the focus during the Blackfish documentary was the breeding practices of a whale named Tilikum. The whale had shown multiple signs of aggressive behavior prior to the fatality at the Orlando SeaWorld, and yet the park continued to use the whale’s sperm for artificial insemination. Critics have questioned the breeding tactics, fearing that violence may run in the genes and that the parks are breeding violent animals. The current pregnancy is causing concern in the same way, due to reports that Kalia has exhibited violent behavior towards an Orca named Ulises, the male that was used for the insemination. Dr. Todd Robeck of SeaWorld San Diego said that Kalia was allowed to be with Ulises, in hopes of natural conception, but artificial insemination was also used as a backup.
SeaWorld has already come forward defending the captivity breeding, pointing out that killer whales in the wild are suffering, and that the research they are able to learn by continually breeding and bringing Orca calves into captivity is valuable research. They have also said that the age of Kalia is not an issue as whales in the wild can breed between the ages of nine and twenty-eight.
Early reports have said that Kalia and her mother Katsaka will be separated, as Kalia is scheduled to be transported to the San Antonio park sometime in May. She is expected to give birth in December of this year.
A killer whale pregnancy in the past would have garnered great attention, but following the negative press and attention that has already plagued SeaWorld, it is yet to be seen what kind of attention this will draw. An Orca’s gestation period is nearly 18 months, and with the young calf still seven months out, SeaWorld is bound to face further protest and attention from both sides of the argument.
By Johnny Caito