SAN DIEGO -
An orca calf was born at SeaWorld San Diego Thursday.
The killer whale was born at 6:33 a.m. at Shamu Stadium and appears to be healthy, according to SeaWorld. The mother, Kasatka, who about 37 years old, spent about an hour in labor.
The calf is the sixth to be born at SeaWorld, which now has 10 killer whales. Four have been born to Kasatka.
SeaWorld employees present for the birth cheered and applauded as the calf slipped from its mother and immediately began swimming alongside her. Kalia, Kasatka's daughter born eight years ago, swam alongside her mother and new sibling.
"This is an amazing day. We are just so, so happy that Kasatka gave birth to a healthy calf. This is one of the joys of my job. These animals are like my family," said supervisory trainer Kristi Burtis.
The newborn weighs 300-350 pounds and is 6-7 feet long, according to park officials. So far, there's no word on its sex.
"Little baby, yeah … it's super cute," said Jess Richey, visiting the park with her two young boys.
SeaWorld felt so confident in how well everything was going with the new baby that they invited park visitors in for a brief time to see the calf. The brief moments did not diminish enthusiasm.
"It was fantastic. It's swimming with two bigger whales, right between them like it's protected and comes up and splashes once in a while. It's great," said Diana McBride, who is visiting from Oregon.
"The mother and baby appear to be doing very well and our initial observations indicate this is a strong, healthy calf," said Mike Scarpuzzi, vice president of zoological operations at the park. "As with any newborn, the first few days are critical. We're looking forward to the continued bonding of mom and calf and the baby beginning to nurse."
Moments after birth, the calf instinctively surfaced to take its first breath. SeaWorld said zoological team members report the mother and offspring appear to be healthy, but the first few days will be critical.
Killer whale births at SeaWorld have not always gone well. Several years ago, one was stillborn and another died shortly after birth.
"It's really important within the first couple of weeks to move them around the facility and once mom and baby are comfortable, we want to begin socializing them with the other whales," Burtis said.
Orcas have an 18-month gestation period.
Kasatka was artificially inseminated, so SeaWorld has known for quite some time that she was pregnant.
Until they know its sex, the baby won't be given a name.
Park officials told 10News they might hold an online naming contest along the lines of what the zoo does when a new panda is born.