Unna, killer whale, died at SeaWorld San Antonio this week.

Yet Another Whale Died at SeaWorld This Week. What a Lovely Place.

Yet Another Whale Died at SeaWorld This Week. What a Lovely Place.

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Dec. 23 2015 2:26 PM

Yet Another Whale Died at SeaWorld This Week 

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SeaWorld, caring.

SeaWorld

The death toll continues to rise at SeaWorld. Unna, an 18-year-old, 3,100-pound killer whale, died this week at SeaWorld San Antonio. She had been undergoing treatment since September for a resistant fungal infection, and in October, after being switched over to a new treatment, she stopped eating.

In the past six months, two other whales have died at the Texas theme park. In November, there was the death of Stella, a beluga whale with gastrointestinal problems. In July, a newborn beluga died just days after being born premature. In total, there have been at least 14 animal deaths since the park’s opening, reports the San Antonio Express-News.

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In the wild, female whales typically live for 50 years but can live up to 100 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Yet the median lifespan for both male and female orcas in captivity is just 6 years—12 years in U.S. parks—according to research in the journal Marine Mammal Science. Unna would have turned 19 this weekend, meaning she actually outlived her life expectancy, in a sad way.

SeaWorld has been a lightning rod for criticism ever since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which leveled damning criticism that one of the park’s star orcas attacked and killed a trainer because it had been so traumatized by its treatment in captivity. Vehement public outcry and declining attendance in the wake of the film has pushed SeaWorld to launch an aggressive campaign against Blackfish—as well a massive effort to rebrand the park as animal-friendly. In November, SeaWorld San Diego announced that it would phase out its controversial “Shamu” shows. A month earlier, it agreed to stop breeding captive killer whales after the California Coastal Commission demanded it as a condition for approving the park’s expansion of its killer whale habitat.

Now, SeaWorld’s official line is that it “continues to inspire people across the globe to take action in supporting wildlife conservation.” In fact, they want you to know that in their compassion, they've rescued and rehabilitated more than 26,000 animals. In a jarring juxtaposition, the news of Unna’s death appears on SeaWorld’s website under a logo that reads “SeaWorld Cares,” with two open palms cupping the tail of an orca whale. As SeaWorld wrote in its press release:

In honor of Unna, we have decided to cancel all the killer whale shows at SeaWorld San Antonio today.

What a nice gesture. 

Rachel E. Gross is the science web editor at Smithsonian.