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Taima, SeaWorld Orlando orca, dies giving birth to stillborn calf fathered by Tilikum

Taima, a 20-year-old orca at SeaWorld Orlando, died Sunday at the park while in labor with a stillborn calf.

Taima's calf was fathered by Tilikum, the orca who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in February. Dr. Chris Dold, SeaWorld's vice president of veterinary services, told the Orlando Sentinel that the calf was in an unusual position in the birth canal and that Taima's labor was further complicated by the fact that she delivered the placenta before the calf.

"She was not able to deliver the stillborn fetus naturally; SeaWorld's veterinarians attempted to assist, but her complications were too severe," the park said in a statement about Taima's death.

Another orca at SeaWorld Orlando, 32-year-old Katina, is also pregnant with a calf fathered by Tilikum, but isn't expected to give birth until October, according to the Associated Press.

Animal-rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and In Defense of Animals, were quick to point to Taima's death as just the latest in a string of events that illustrate their argument against keeping orcas in captivity.

"For Taima, death was terrifying and painful, but it was a release from a miserable life of deprivation," PETA's Jennifer O'Connor wrote on the group's blog, later describing SeaWorld as "a greedy outfit that spends millions of dollars on cruel breeding programs and marketing promotions. It values profit over safety and treats orcas as if they were wind-up toys." (PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk expressed similar sentiments in regard to SeaWorld in an interview with Unleashed earlier this month.)

PETA called on its supporters to register their displeasure with SeaWorld's practices by complaining to its parent company, the Blackstone Group.

In Defense of Animals president Scotlund Haisley echoed PETA's comments describing SeaWorld as a company that puts financial gain above its animals' well-being. "Public display of orcas only serves SeaWorld's corporate need to profit from dangerous and unnatural stunts," Haisley said in a statement. "It provides no meaningful education about protecting orcas in the wild and their natural habitats."

The results of a necropsy -- an animal autopsy -- to determine the definitive cause of Taima's death may take up to six weeks, according to SeaWorld Orlando. Taima's mother, Gudrun, died in a similar fashion in 1996, four days after she gave birth to a stillborn calf that would have been a younger sibling to Taima.

At the time of Gudrun's death, a SeaWorld spokesperson, Nick Gollattscheck, told the Sentinel that "[e]ven with an experienced mom, killer whale births are pretty risky ... The mortality rate in the wild is about 50 percent."

Stillbirths are common for orcas, Dold said in reference to Taima's death. He said the rate of stillbirths is lower in captivity than in the wild. "There are lots of these kinds of complications that can occur … We know they happen in the wild, we know they happen in collections," he told the Sentinel. "We know they happen everywhere."

Tilikum remains at SeaWorld Orlando, despite calls from some animal-rights activists to send him to an ocean sanctuary, and will likely someday return to performing in its orca shows, a spokesperson told the Associated Press in March.

RELATED ORCA NEWS:
Animal activists call for changes at SeaWorld following trainer's orca death
Where captives put on a show (column by Steve Lopez)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: charlieorca via YouTube

 
Comments () | Archives (2)

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I think it's absurd to continue housing these animals in captivity. They are far too large, intelligent, and social to confine to tiny, cement tanks, with barren walls -- removed from their family pods (either in the wild or other whales in captivity). My family and I have been boycotting marine parks for years because we simply don't agree with what they are doing and the message they are sending to children about dominating wildlife and forcing it to do circus tricks!

I don't believe Taima's death would have happened had she been living in the wild. She had too many calves at a very young age in a captive environment.. and died 40-50 years short of the orca's natural lifespan.

One of the contributing factors in Taima's tragic death is her prior breeding. She had her first baby at 8 years, far younger that orcas breed in the wild. And female orcas generally space their children by about 5 years. This would have been her 4th child at just 20 years of age.

The breeding programs need to stop and captivity needs to be phased out. Even with their "successful" breeding programs, the number of captive orcas is declining. There were 55 in 1995 and now there are 41. They can't (and shouldn't) breed them faster than they are dying. Its time to stop breeding for profit and turn our attention to conserving and protecting those in the wild.


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