Heartbreaking news has been reported by Seaworld San Antonio this evening. At 5:58 PM EST on July 24, Seaworld announced on their Facebook page that Kyara, a three month old killer whale calf, passed away in the park’s animal hospital surrounded by her caretakers. Kyara had been receiving treatment for pneumonia, an extremely common ailment in wild killer whales.
Born in April to parents Takara and Kyuquot, Kyara had been showing promising signs early on of being a healthy and strong calf. However, over the past three days, veterinarians and care staff have been tirelessly fighting to treat what was suspected to be pneumonia. Over the three days, the calf’s health began rapidly deteriorating and despite their best efforts, her caretakers could not save her. Seaworld stressed that pneumonia is among the most common reasons for calf mortality both in the wild and in aquariums, and studies show us just how common it is for wild whales to contract the often deadly infection.
In a study published in March of this year by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers found that human waste (sewage) and agricultural waste leaking into the ocean may be causing wild killer whales to contract pneumonia. By holding a culture dish over the blowholes of 78 individuals, scientists discovered bacteria present in the lungs of killer whales that are usually only found in the manure of cows and even mold that normally affects crops. Some of the bacteria were antibiotic resistant, making it even more likely that they originated in livestock. There were also colonies of Staphylococcus, the bacteria that causes skin infections in humans. This study is an alarming reminder of how pollution in our oceans and human impact is killing animals and that the wild is not a safe place for them.
One of the most famous examples of killer whale death from pneumonia was the tragic death of Keiko, the famous whale who played Willy in “Free Willy.” Keiko was the subject of a radical animal rights campaign that sought to “free” Keiko of the “abuses” of captivity. Keiko was never fully rehabilitated to be released into the wild but was released anyways. Shortly after his release, Keiko contracted pneumonia and unfortunately, died.
Pneumonia takes the lives of killer whales both in captivity and in the wild. In any case, it is incredibly important to recognize the immense care and love that Kyara was given not just in the past three days, but throughout her entire short life. Around the clock, Kyara had access to superb care from some of the world’s top veterinarians and animal trainers. From her birth on, she always had a watchful eye on her, 24 hours a day, making sure she was nursing properly and breathing appropriately.
Because of her care and unlike wild killer whales, Kyara never once faced hunger, pollution, or threats of poaching. She was given treatment to help ease her suffering and died in a peaceful and healthy environment. We at Zoo Nation send our deepest sympathies to the care staff and all who loved Kyara during this difficult time. We too are heartbroken by this tragedy and hope that the staff at Seaworld can find comfort in knowing that Kyara lived a very short but good life. We thank them for their unwavering dedication and love for their animals and for teaching the world about the plight of these magnificent creatures.
Photos by Zoo Nation.