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Baby orca! Last killer whale born at SeaWorld

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The last baby killer whale to be born at a SeaWorld theme park has made its debut.

The company says Takara got pregnant naturally before SeaWorld announced it would discontinue captive breeding, making this generation of orcas its last. The unnamed baby was born Wednesday to a 25-year-old orca named Takara at the SeaWorld park in San Antonio, Texas.

"The birth of Takara's calf is also the last chance for researchers to study orca development in ways that can not be done in the wild, helping to benefit wild whales as well as those in SeaWorld's care", the company said in a statement Wednesday.

SeaWorld's chief zoological officer, Chris Dold, described the birth as one of those "extraordinary moments". The pair will provide data and samples to studies focused on killer whale growth and metabolism.

"A team of veterinarians and killer whale trainers witnessed the historic birth and are continuing to monitor Takara and her new baby 24-hours a day to help ensure a successful start", said a SeaWorld statement. This includes a commitment of $10 million in matching funds dedicated to killer whale research and the creation of a multi-million dollar partnership focused on ocean health, the leading concern for all killer whales and marine mammals. Animal rights activists and the documentary about the theme park, Blackfish, generated intense controversy and sparked protests against the keeping of orcas, dolphins, and a myriad of other creatures, in captivity for entertainment purposes. It told the story of Tilikum, a SeaWorld orca who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau, and was implicated in the deaths of two other people.

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Tilikum, which sired 14 calves over almost 25 years in Orlando, died of bacterial pneumonia in January. All the orcas are expected to remain on display and available for researchers for years to come in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.

SeaWorld has said it plans to introduce new "natural orca encounters" in place of theatrical shows.

The last baby orca born in captivity at SeaWorld will reportedly be allowed to remain with its mother.

Visitors will have the opportunity see Takara and her calf in "the near future during select times", the company said in its statement.

"He also insisted that SeaWorld is still committed to orca research and conservation, adding: "[The last orca birth] is a solemn reminder of how things can change and how things can be lost".

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