Folks in orca forums have been suspecting this for a while, but as Blackfish continues to roll out, I thought I would confirm that Takara is indeed pregnant.
Following the failure of her last pregnancy, she was AI’d again last summer, presumably again with sperm from Kshamenk. Takara is the dominant orca at SeaWorld Texas, and she tends to be on more of a hair trigger through the early hormonal surges of pregnancy. So for a while the Texas orca group had to be managed carefully to minimize the likelihood that Takara would rough up other whales. Interestingly, part of the strategy was to keep the whole group of orcas together in one pool whenever possible, on the theory that Takara’s mobility would be limited and that for Takara a confined space limits her inclination toward aggression during the early stages of pregnancy. Separating her was believed to make her more anxious to affirm her dominance when she got a chance.
Apparently, Kasatka, Takara’s mother, also has similar issues with hormones and aggression during early pregnancy. But while conscious of Kastaka’s propensity for increased aggression during the early stages of pregnancy, the California park did what it could to manage the aggression without reducing Kasatka’s space.
Not sure what is happening with Kayla, who last year was also on the AI list…
At the risk of over-exciting all my skeptics, who think I pull SeaWorld orca pregnancies out of my ass, I have been getting word that SeaWorld Texas’ Takara is not pregnant. Takara was one of a number of SeaWorld pregnancies that I wrote about last November. All seemed normal, and SeaWorld considered Takara to be pregnant, but in March her progesterone levels dropped below a level consistent with pregnancy. An investigatory sonogram did not reveal a fetus, but it was not clear whether she had lost the fetus (though she had not passed one) or simply had experienced a false pregnancy.
The failure of Takara’s pregnancy raised a question about the sperm of Kshamenk, the male from Argentina’s Mundo Marino, which had been used in Artificial Insemination (AI) procedures on both Takara and Kasatka. Kshamenk’s sperm is one way for SeaWorld’s captive breeding program to get beyond a preponderance of Tilikum genes, so it is important to the future of orca breeding at SeaWorld. But Kasatka’s pregnancy is progressing, with a fetus visible on sonograms, so Kshamenk’s sperm is at least viable.
So Takara will not be giving birth along with Kasatka and Kohana. However, she seems healthy despite the false or failed pregnancy, and SeaWorld plans to try and inseminate her again by mid-summer. Not sure whether they will use Kshamenk’s sperm again. But SeaWorld also has an AI and sperm collection arrangement with Marineland Antibes in France, which used sperm from SeaWorld California’s Ulises to impregnate their younger female, Wikie. That led to the birth of a calf called Moana last year. Marineland Antibes has two males, Valentin and Inouk, who are sexually mature and presumably could also be used as sperm donors for SeaWorld’s breeding program.
SeaWorld Florida also has plans to AI Kayla sometime soon (in March I mentioned she was next on the AI list), though apparently she does not cycle normally, so the timing is a bit tricky.
That’s all the orca pregnancy news I have for the moment. So let the skeptics have at it…
Now I am also picking up whispers that SeaWorld’s Kasatka and her daughter Takara are also pregnant, via Artifical Insemination (AI) that was conducted over the summer. The donor: Kshamenk, an Argentinian killer whale.
Kasatka is a 34-year old female at SeaWorld San Diego. She was captured off Iceland in 1978, when she was about one year old, and in 2000 became the first SeaWorld female to be artificially inseminated (with sperm from Tilikum). That pregnancy led to the birth of Nakai, who is still at SeaWorld San Diego. Kasatka is also the mother of Takara (born in 1991 and now at SeaWorld San Antonio), and Kalia (born in 2004 and still at SeaWorld San Diego).
Takara, Kasatka’s daughter, is the mother of Kohana, who was born in 2002 (and if she successfully carries her current pregnancy to term will have given birth twice before she turns 13). Takara is also the mother of Trua (born in 2005 and now at SeaWorld Orlando), and Sakari (born last year and still at SeaWorld San Antonio).
The use of sperm from Kshamenk, a killer whale who was captured in Argentina in 1992 and now lives at Buenos Aires’ Mundo Marino, is a new wrinkle in SeaWorld’s captive orca breeding program. A majority of SeaWorld’s killer whales have Tilikum’s genes, and there has been a lot of concern about a genetic bottleneck within SeaWorld’s breeding pool. Training Kshamenk to give sperm donations, and using his sperm to impregnate Kasatka and Takara adds completely distinctive Argentinian killer whale DNA to the SeaWorld sperm pool.