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Kyara, SeaWorld's last orca calf born in captivity, has died of 'likely pneumonia'

The Washington Post

A killer whale calf that was the last to be born in captivity under SeaWorld's now-shuttered orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio park.

Kyara, a 3-month-old orca calf who was born to mother Takara in April, came down with "very serious and progressive health issues" over the past week, SeaWorld said in a statement.

In the three days before her death, veterinarians spent day and night treating her for an infection, giving her antibiotics and hand-feeding her, the company added.

Although Kyara's ailment was "likely pneumonia," an official cause of death may not be available for several weeks, after a post-mortem exam is completed, SeaWorld said.

"Kyara had a tremendous impact on each of her care staff, not to mention all of the guests that had the chance to see her," SeaWorld orca trainer Julie Sigman said in a statement. "From late nights to early morning, rain or shine, we dedicate our lives to these animals, and this loss will be felt throughout the entire SeaWorld family."

The company said Kyara's mother, Takara, and the rest of their pod appeared to be behaving normally and did not show signs of illness.

With the loss of Kyara, SeaWorld now has 22 orcas at its Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego facilities, a company spokeswoman said. Two-and-a-half-year-old Amaya, at SeaWorld San Diego, is the youngest.

SeaWorld has tried to retool its image - and many of its programs - after outcry following a tragic 2010 incident in which a five-ton male orca, Tilikum, killed a trainer in front of park visitors at SeaWorld Orlando. Three years later, the documentary "Blackfish" sparked another, more intense wave of public backlash against the park.

Last March, SeaWorld announced it would immediately end its captive-breeding program for orcas and begin phasing out its killer whale performances. Kyara, who was conceived before the announcement, was the last orca calf to be born under the breeding program.

Earlier this month, SeaWorld announced it would begin offering 45-minute "up-close" tours of its orcas as an optional, paid activity for its guests, a shift from entertainment to education for the theme park.

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