The Shamu Theater team at Seaworld San Antonio cheered and cried tears of joy on April 19 as Takara, a 25 year old orca, gave the final push at 2:33 PM (CST) to deliver a beautiful and healthy calf. The gender of the baby is not yet known and a name has not been chosen. However, Seaworld has promised its fans that they will be among the first to know the gender and name. Seaworld stated in a Facebook comment that though there is no way to be completely sure yet, it is believed the father is 25 year old Kyuquot, who was observed mating with Takara. During the coming weeks, Takara and baby will have round-the-clock care and supervision. Takara bonded with her calf immediately, and her trainers couldn’t help but be overcome with emotions. Julie Sigman, a trainer at Shamu Theater, has been with Takara for the births of her past three calves (Kamea, Sakari, and Trua). She explained what it feels like to experience something so important to not only Takara and her trainers, but orcas as a species. “Nothing can prepare you for that moment when mom helps the calf get to the surface for its first breath. The second the calf is born, Takara is 100% focused on its care and well-being. She knows exactly what to do. It is amazing,” said Sigman.
For now, trainers will let mom and baby be and will only begin interacting with the baby when both Takara and the calf show signs of being ready for trainer interaction. With this new addition, San Antonio is now home to six orcas, which include the baby’s sisters Kamea and Sakari, and Tuar, another adult bull. The birth of this calf is extremely important to the conservation of orcas, as throughout her pregnancy, Takara was part of several research projects to learn about how different aspects of orca health and activity are affected by pregnancy. This information could not be obtained from wild whales, as the data collected from Takara was made possible by lifelong training for procedures such as ultrasounds and blood draws.
Now that her pregnancy has ended, researchers will continue to study the interactions between mom, baby, and the rest of the pod to learn more about the lives of orcas after the birth of a calf. Orcas are pregnant for an astounding 18 months. Congratulations to the trainers, veterinarians, and all others involved in this successful birth! Stay tuned for updates on the calf’s gender and name!