A 6-year-old female orca unexpectedly died at SeaWorld San Diego Thursday, one day after she began showing signs of illness, KTLA sister station KSWB in San Diego reports.
The cause of death of Amaya, the animal park’s youngest killer whale, will not be known for several weeks until a post-mortem examination is complete, according to a SeaWorld San Diego statement.
“The entire SeaWorld family is saddened by the loss,” the statement reads in part. A spokesperson added that the orca died “with her animal care specialists by her side.”
The killer whale’s death “was sudden and unexpected,” park officials said. She had apparently fallen ill on Wednesday, and was treated immediately by a team of animal care special specialists and veterinarians.
But even with treatment, her condition “rapidly” deteriorated and she died the following day.
Amaya lived with her parents — mother Kalia and father Ulises — and was considered among the most playful of the park’s 10 orcas, according to SeaWorld’s website.
“This is a very difficult time for those who knew and loved Amaya. She inspired millions of guests to appreciate and learn more about this amazing species. The specialists who cared for her at SeaWorld are heartbroken,” the park statement said.
Nearly a decade ago, SeaWorld faced intense criticism after the release of a book titled “Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity,” and a 2013 documentary titled, “Blackfish.” Those popular features led SeaWorld’s operators to promise to change practices and focus the shows on understanding the animals rather than creating a spectacle.
SeaWorld San Diego stopped breeding orcas prior to a California law that targeted such programs. The law, signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, made California the first state in the nation to ban killer whales from being bred and used in theatrical shows.
However, the law permitted orcas to stay in California, provided they were used for “educational presentations.”