Orca Whale Kayla, Second Oldest Whale Born in Captivity, Dies Suddenly at SeaWorld Orlando

The 30-year-old whale became ill this weekend and died on Monday morning

Captive Marine Mammals, Orlando, USA - 10 Apr 2014
Photo: John Raoux/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Kayla, the second oldest whale ever born into captivity, has died at SeaWorld Orlando.

According to a statement from SeaWorld, the death was unexpected.

“Kayla began showing signs of discomfort on Saturday (Jan. 26) afternoon. Her veterinarians immediately began treatment based on a physical examination,” SeaWorld officials wrote of the 30-year-old animal. “Unfortunately, her condition worsened through the next two days. Although animal care specialists and veterinarians devoted around the clock attention to Kayla, she did not survive.”

The killer whale died at SeaWorld Orlando on Monday at 12:15 a.m. “with her animal care specialists by her side.”

“Any loss of a SeaWorld family member brings great sadness. Kayla’s care team shares a special bond with her and is deeply saddened by her death,” staff added.

SeaWorld reps said they are also keeping an eye on the five remaining orcas that are still living at SeaWorld Orlando since the other whales “could be affected socially by her passing.”

The cause of Kayla’s death is still unknown. SeaWorld expects to have more answers after the whale’s post-mortem examination is complete, which may take several weeks.

“While this is very difficult for all of us at SeaWorld, Kayla inspired generations of guests and employees to care and learn more about this amazing species,” SeaWorld staff closed their statement.

In response to this news, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has issued its own statement:

“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’s executive vice president, Tracy Reiman, said a statement provided to PEOPLE. “She died well shy of her normal life expectancy, stuck in a tiny tank at SeaWorld. PETA and local members will hold two memorials for her this week, because while we recognize that it’s too late to help her, it’s not too late to call attention to SeaWorld’s other orca prisoners, who must be released into seaside sanctuaries as soon as possible.”

According to NBC News, the average life expectancy for a killer whale is 50 years.

There are now 20 orcas that remain in captivity in SeaWorld’s three parks (San Diego and San Antonio are the other two). There are no plans to release these whales, most of whom have spent their life in captivity, into sea sanctuaries — an alternative that multiple animal welfare groups have campaigned for.

The number of orcas under SeaWorld’s care likely won’t grow. In 2016, SeaWord announced the end of its orca breeding program. New orcas will only be introduced to the parks if they are rescued from the wild and not fit to be released back into the ocean.

Kayla’s death comes two years after the death of Tilikum, the SeaWorld orca that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 and inspired the controversial 2013 documentary Blackfish.

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