John Hargrove with Kasatka in 2001.
Former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove, now a fierce critic, is shown with Kasatka in 2001. Photo by Melissa Hargrove

Updated at 1:40 p.m. Aug. 16, 2017

Six weeks after being rumored near death, killer whale matriarch Kasatka, seen in the critical movie “Blackfish,” has died at SeaWorld San Diego, the park announced late Tuesday night.

Nearly 42 years old, Kasatka was euthanized around 8:15 p.m. at Orca Encounter after a long bout with bacterial respiratory infection, or lung disease, officials said.

“Despite their best efforts, her health and appetite significantly declined over the past several days despite continually tailored treatments,” SeaWorld said. “Kasatka’s veterinarians and caretakers made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her to prevent compromising her quality of life.”

Kasatka — the mother of four, grandmother of six and great grandmother of two orcas — “passed away surrounded by members of her pod, as well as the veterinarians and caretakers who loved her,” SeaWorld said.

The park said Kasatka’s behaviorists shared a special bond with the killer whale and were deeply saddened by her passing. In “Blackfish,” the documentary that led to a SeaWorld stock plunge and changes in law, Kasatka is depicted as being separated from her calf Takara.

SeaWorld says Takara was already an adult with her own calf when sent to another park.

The loss leaves 10 orcas in San Diego — five females and five males, who appear to be doing well, SeaWorld said. The oldest, about 53, is Corky in San Diego.

“But we’re monitoring and watching for any changes in their behavior,” said a statement. “While the loss of Kasatka is heartbreaking for the animal care, veterinary and training teams, as well as the entire SeaWorld family, our focus is to continue the care of the rest of the orca family at the Orca Encounter facility.”

According to SeaWorldCares.com, Kasatka was 17 feet long and weighed about 4,850 pounds. Her name may derive from the Russian word Косатка, a generic term for orcas.

An independent site described her as the dominant orca in her park.

Kasatka performs during “The Shamu Adventure” in July 2004. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“She keeps her pod in their places but can be aggressive to the less dominant orcas,” said orcapod.wikia.com. “She will also discipline her calves while other times she will let them get away with a lot. She is a very loving mother and has strong bonds with her calves.”

Aggressive to trainers at one time, Kasatka attacked one in 2006 — pinning Ken Peters, 39, to the bottom of the 36-foot pool.

“As several hundred spectators watched, the whale and trainer plunged underwater, where Kasatka grabbed Peters by the foot and held him for less than a minute before surfacing,” a SeaWorld spokesman told CNN.

Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, also a former SeaWorld trainer, told a SeaWorldofHurt.com: “The video sequence of her throttling Ken Peters, as seen in the ‘Blackfish’ movie, is the most shocking human–orca encounter ever seen, including with wild whales, in my opinion.”

Kasatka was about a year old when captured off Tvisker, Iceland, on Oct. 26, 1978, said orcapod.wikia.com.

In a statement Wednesday morning, PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said: “The dead bodies at SeaWorld are stacking up about as fast as its stock is falling, with Kasatka dead just a few weeks after the death of her 3-month-old granddaughter.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals renewed its call for SeaWorld to relocate its remaining marine mammals to seaside sanctuaries “before they follow Kasatka — and the 40 orcas before her — to the grave.”

PETA said it planned a memorial for Kasatka at noon today (Wednesday) at the intersection of Sea World Drive and Sea World Way.

SeaWorld San Diego spokesman David Koontz said an Orca Encounter presentation — dedicated to Kasatka — would be held at 2:30 p.m.

“Kasatka has been part of Orca Encounter presentations since they debuted over Memorial Day weekend, Koontz said. “She last participated in the Orca Encounter presentation about two to three weeks ago.”

He said SeaWorld veterinarians in San Diego and company base Orlando, and Kasatka’s caretakers, made the euthanization decision. He didn’t specify the method, but said it was a similar protocol as used with domestic animals.

“The procedure not only went exactly as planned, but as hoped,” he said.

In late June, SeaWorld critic and former orca trainer John Hargrove told Times of San Diego that SeaWorld was “doing everything known to science to keep her alive” for the sake of avoiding a third orca death in relatively quick succession — including the male Tillikum in January.

Hargrove shared photos that he said showed open sores, and lesions over the orca’s face and skin, indicative of a massive fungal infection.

In a tweet near midnight, Hargrove said: “I tried to get the media to expose it, I tried to have ANYONE force them to take pics of her.”

An hour later, Hargrove tweeted: “Why didn’t the media ever force SeaWorld to answer why they forcibly impregnated her in Aug. 2011 while chronically ill & given major drugs?”

SeaWorld posted a short video tribute to “The Matriarch.”

Kasatka’s passing comes three weeks after the death of 3-month-old orca calf Kyara at SeaWorld San Antonio — Kasatka’s granddaughter and San Diego-born Takara’s daughter.

SeaWorld said it now cares for 21 orcas at its three facilities, including six in Orlando and five in San Antonio.

A veterinary team will conduct a full post-mortem examination known as a necropsy to examine the extent of Kasatka’s illness and how it impacted her organ function, the park said.

SeaWorld said it may take several weeks before results are finalized.

“Nobody knows more about caring for killer whales than the professionals at SeaWorld,” said Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “Having the privilege of working with these animals daily provides veterinarians and other animal care staff with the expertise and insight to make very difficult choices, like with Kasatka.

“Certainly, this was a difficult and wrenching decision, but I have absolutely no doubt that it was made with Kasatka’s best interest in mind. On behalf of the entire AZA family, we offer condolences to the dedicated SeaWorld professionals who have loved and cared for Kasatka throughout her life.”

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