It's been a long time coming, but the breeding program is finally done with.
Three months ago, SeaWorld's orca breeding program came to a long-awaited close with the birth of one last whale: Kyara.
It was welcome news, too. For years, activists have fought back against SeaWorld's treatment of orcas, which has been widely described as "cruel." The 2013 film "Blackfish" put a spotlight on some of SeaWorld's frightening behind-the-scenes antics, and in March 2016, the organization announced a plan to put an end to the breeding program and phase out the public shows.
It was a huge win for animal rights activists, and Kyara's birth at SeaWorld San Antonio was a milestone in itself, as she would be final whale to be born and raised in a SeaWorld park.
Kyara with her mom, Takara. GIF from SeaWorld/YouTube.
In late July 2017, tragedy struck. Kyara contracted an infection and, on July 24, the 3-month-old orca died.
SeaWorld announced the heartbreaking news on its website and social media channels later that day, writing, "Kyara had faced some very serious and progressive health issues over the last week that the animal care and veterinary teams had been aggressively treating." While the specific cause of death isn't yet known, SeaWorld says that signs point to it being pneumonia, a common illness in whale calfs.
Kyara's death is a powerful symbol of SeaWorld's marred reputation, a tragic — if fitting — end to an era.
Still, the question remains: What will happen to the more than 20 remaining orcas in captivity at SeaWorld? That's a fight activists aren't quite done with.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called on SeaWorld to relocate its remaining whales to coastal sanctuaries. Whales that have spent a great deal of time living in captivity might not fare well being released into the wild, which makes the idea of a middle-ground solution sound appealing.
Unfortunately for PETA and other advocates, SeaWorld has rejected their proposition, calling the idea of relocating orcas to "unproven sea cages" dangerous.
Many activists want SeaWorld to extend its ban on captivity breeding to other animals, such as dolphins. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Humane Society executive Wayne Pacelle said, "This is the beginning of discussions with SeaWorld, not the end."
For now, rest in peace, Kyara — and may this tragedy be the last of its kind.
GIF from SeaWorld/YouTube