Last killer whale born at SeaWorld

PHOTO: Killer whale Takara helps guide her newborn to the waters surface at SeaWorld San Antonio.PlaySeaWorld
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SeaWorld on Wednesday announced the birth of the last killer whale that will ever be born at the theme park, just a little over a year after it announced plans to stop breeding orcas there amid falling ticket sales and a wave of animal rights protests.

SeaWorld Entertainment, which operates 12 parks including its flagship location in Orlando, Florida, said the calf was born Wednesday afternoon to Takara, the 25-year-old matriarch of its orca pod who was already pregnant when the marine theme park company said it would stop breeding killer whales in March of last year.

"Although this is the last killer whale birth at a SeaWorld park, our work to understand and protect this species will continue for decades to come," said Hendrik Nollens, vice president of veterinary services for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

The company called the calf's birth "historic" and said the event would mark "a new era" for SeaWorld Parks.

"This is an exciting and emotional day for us at SeaWorld and we are all so proud to share this new killer whale calf with the world, after a year and a half of planning, and observing and providing all the special care," said Chris Bellows, vice president of zoological operations at the company’s park in San Antonio, Texas, where the calf was born.

Last year, SeaWorld said "society is changing" and the company is "changing with it" as it announced plans to stop breeding orcas.

The Orlando, Florida-based company reported total revenue of $1.34 billion for 2016, down 2.2 percent from the previous full year.

Total park attendance for 2016 fell by about 2.1 percent for the year as the company's Florida and northeast park locations hit a major slump, according to the company's own accounting.