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A 30-Year-Old Orca Died Of A Sudden Illness At SeaWorld Orlando

Kayla became the fourth orca to die at a SeaWorld park in the last two years.

Posted on January 29, 2019, at 10:06 a.m. ET

Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Trainer Joe Sanchez works with Kayla at SeaWorld Orlando in 2011.

Kayla, a 30-year-old female orca, died at SeaWorld Orlando on Monday morning after developing a sudden illness over the weekend.

The controversial theme park said that Kayla’s exact cause of death would not be known until the results of a postmortem examination, which could take several weeks.

The orca began showing signs of discomfort Saturday afternoon, prompting her veterinarians to begin treatment after a physical examination.

“Unfortunately, her condition worsened through the next two days,” SeaWorld Orlando said in its statement. “Although animal care specialists and veterinarians devoted around the clock attention to Kayla, she did not survive.”

An animal care specialist responsible for her overnight care was with Kayla when she died Monday morning.

Kayla was the second-oldest captive-born orca ever, Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, which has been critical of SeaWorld, told the Orlando Sentinel.

Rose said that “30 is prime of life” for a female orca whose average life span in the wild is 50 years but can go up to 80 or 90 years.

“That’s like literally being a 30-year-old woman. Dying at 30 is not normal,” Rose said.

Kayla is the fourth SeaWorld orca to die at one of its parks in the past two years.

In August 2017, Kasatka, a 42-year-old matriarch, was euthanized after having lung disease for years at SeaWorld San Diego. A month earlier, Kyara, a 3-month-old baby orca — the last killer whale born in captivity at a SeaWorld park — died of an infection. And in January that year, Tilikum, who featured in the documentary Blackfish, which prompted SeaWorld to end its killer whale breeding program, died after a lung infection.

SeaWorld still has 20 orcas in its parks, of which five remain in Orlando following Kayla’s death. The other orcas at SeaWorld Orlando could be affected socially by Kayla’s death, the park said, and orca behaviorists will be monitoring them closely.

The park said it doesn’t anticipate any physical health issues among the remaining orcas in Orlando.

“Any loss of a SeaWorld family member brings great sadness,” SeaWorld Orlando said in its statement. “Kayla’s care team shares a special bond with her and is deeply saddened by her death.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.