Killer whale born at SeaWorld California is strong and healthy

10 Dec 2014

Killer whale born at SeaWorld California is strong and healthy

SeaWorld San Diego welcomed the birth of a baby killer whale on 2nd December.  Weighing in at approximately 300 pounds, this is the park’s seventh successful killer whale birth. Kalia, 10, gave birth at Shamu Stadium under the watchful eyes of the SeaWorld’s zoological team members and her mother, Kasatka.

Kalia’s pregnancy and the birth of her calf not only demonstrate the ongoing success of the killer whale breeding program at the world’s leading zoological organisation, but also could be of tremendous assistance to researchers monitoring endangered wild killer whale populations.

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Services has partnered with SeaWorld San Diego to conduct a two-year vertical (aerial) photographic monitoring study with the park’s killer whales in order to assess changes in body weight and pregnancy status over time – Kalia being one of the killer whales photographed during her 17-month gestation.

The study will allow researchers to use photogrammetric analysis to detect body changes within wild whales. The results from this study will be integrated into a database of longitudinal photographs of free-ranging killer whales from the North Pacific (Southern Resident population) and Antarctica in order to identify pregnant whales and declining body conditions (weight loss) for these species. Data on body condition and growth can provide important indications of individual health and population status, and specifically can indicate a response to the effects of nutritional stress due to limited food availability.

Data on pregnancy status can provide accurate calf survival rate for free-ranging killer whales for the first time. This study will directly address data gaps identified by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Southern Resident killer whale recovery plan. The Southern Resident killer whales in the Pacific Northwest is an endangered population.

"We’re pleased that our killer whale family is able to advance the science and conservation of killer whales in the wild,” said Dr. Judy St. Leger, SeaWorld’s vice president of research and science. “Having the ability the photograph Kalia during her length of her pregnancy in a safe and controlled environment gives us information that we couldn’t obtain any other way.”

The data gained from the study at SeaWorld San Diego will ultimately be used for interpreting aerial photographs taken during field research of the Northern Resident killer whale population off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.  This is the study being conducted by the Vancouver Aquarium and

National Marine Fisheries Service with the funding in part provided by the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.

SeaWorld has committed $10 million towards research to focus on threats to killer whales in the wild, especially those identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration related to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale.  The matching funds will be in addition to killer whale research conducted by SeaWorld’s scientists, which includes 50 studies to date.

SeaWorld’s successful development of its population of killer whales allows the park to manage a healthy population of animals, while keeping young calves with their mothers and respecting the whales’ social structure.

SeaWorld’s breeding program is carried out according to internationally recognized zoological standards applicable to breeding programs. SeaWorld is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.

Watch a video here.