SeaWorld Orlando staff got a big surprise this morning as Katina, the 40-year-old matriarch of the park’s 7-orca pod, gave birth to her eighth calf at 5:32 a.m. The whale was not known to be pregnant.
“We were doing our morning check-ups on the whales when we saw the flukes,” Holly Byrd, senior SeaWorld orca trainer, said, referring to the typical tail-first presentation in orca births. “That was when we really started making calls”.
When asked how SeaWorld missed this whale of a pregnancy, Dr. Chris Dold said the whale was thought to be post-menopausal and therefore wasn’t being monitored for pregnancies. “Most female killer whales go through menopause at around forty years of age,” he said, and SeaWorld “just didn’t expect another calf out of her”.
“Katina has always been a little rounder than other whales, so historically we haven’t seen many physical signs of pregnancy even when we know she’s pregnant,” Dold continued. “The father is almost sure to be Tilikum”.
The birth comes only two weeks after SeaWorld’s announcement that the company would stop breeding killer whales and end theatrical shows. The company had announced the pregnancy of a killer whale named Takara at its San Antonio park, but no one knew about Katina’s pregnancy.
Dold says the mother and calf are doing well. “We were very concerned this morning about their health as there had been no increased monitoring,” he said, laughing. “Luckily, all is well and mom and calf are doing extremely well.”
You can watch video of the new calf, taken by park guests this morning, below.