A baby beluga whale was born at SeaWorld San Antonio Thursday morning.
The newborn calf is a stark reminder that although SeaWorld announced in March it was ending its captive orca breeding program, the marine mammal park appears to have left other animals out.
The decision to end orca breeding came after sustained public outcry over the park’s treatment of the animals. But it made no mention of the other highly intelligent cetaceans — beluga whales and dolphins — that live at SeaWorld parks.
Critics of SeaWorld, spurred by the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” have largely focused on the park’s iconic orcas, saying that life in a tank is cruel and stressful for such large and intelligent animals.
But animal advocacy groups note that beluga whales and dolphins — both of which are kept at SeaWorld parks — suffer similarly when kept in captivity for human entertainment. In 2014, conservationist Jane Goodall called captive beluga whale breeding programs “no longer defensible by science.” She wrote in an open letter to the Vancouver Aquarium that the highly social, intelligent species cannot “thrive and achieve good welfare” in an aquarium environment.
The father of the newborn calf at SeaWorld San Antonio is a male named Imaq who was transported to the Texas park from Vancouver, Canada. The nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation has noted that transportation is highly stressful for belugas.
Former SeaWorld employee Sarah Fischbeck painted a chilling picture of SeaWorld’s beluga breeding protocol in a December interview with The Dodo.
Fischbeck said the park repeatedly bred a female beluga named Ruby, even though she repeatedly tried to kill her own offspring. When a miscarriage caused Ruby to become fatally ill in 2014, Fischbeck alleges the park put her out in a small pool alone, out of sight.
The current state of beluga and dolphin breeding programs SeaWorld — and whether the company has any plans to phase them out — is unclear and they did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post. A dolphin calf was born at SeaWorld San Diego in October, and a 3-week-old beluga born prematurely at SeaWorld San Antonio died in July 2015.
This article has been updated to indicate that the beluga whale calf born in July was born last year.