A 30-year-old orca died at SeaWorld Orlando on Monday after suddenly becoming ill, the company said.
SeaWorld said the female orca named Kayla began to show “signs of discomfort” on Saturday and veterinarians immediately began treatment.
“Unfortunately, her condition worsened through the next two days,” the company said in a statement. “Although animal care specialists and veterinarians devoted around-the-clock attention to Kayla, she did not survive.”
Park authorities said the orca had been healthy and showed no major health concerns before suddenly becoming ill. SeaWorld said it is monitoring the other whales in captivity.
“It is possible the other orcas could be affected socially by her passing, and the orca behaviourists will be monitoring the other whales closely,” the company said. “We don’t, however, anticipate any physical health issues amongst the other orcas.”
Kayla was among the last orcas at SeaWorld’s Orlando park. Other parks in California and Texas also house orcas.
SeaWorld announced the end of its breeding program in March 2016, following years of pressure from animal rights protests and shifting public opinion about orcas being held in captivity. The protests intensified after the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which focused on the life of Tilikum, a killer whale responsible for killing trainer Dawn Brancheau when he dragged her into a pool in front of shocked visitors in 2010.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said it planned to protest outside SeaWorld Orlando to memorialize the orca’s death.
“Kayla was forced to move around the country from park to park and heartbreakingly lost babies over the years,” PETA claimed on social media.
PETA called for the remaining mammals to be removed from SeaWorld parks.
“The company confines these animals to tiny enclosures, and it continues to deny them everything that they need to have a high quality of life. It has—quite unsuccessfully—prioritized profit over the welfare of the animals at its parks,” the group said in a statement. “The remaining marine mammals must be sent to seaside sanctuaries before they—like Kayla and the 41 orcas before her—die in their tanks.”
SeaWorld said it will be several weeks before the results of a post-mortem exam will be available to determine the cause of Kayla’s death.
SeaWorld has 20 orcas left at its parks. There are five in Orlando, five in San Antonio, and 10 in San Diego.
–with files from the Associated Press