The youngest orca at SeaWorld San Diego died at the animal theme park from an illness, leaving those who cared for her heartbroken.
On Wednesday, Amaya, the 6-year-old orca, started showing signs of an illness so animal care specialists and veterinarians began treating her, SeaWorld said in a statement.
Almost 24 hours later, SeaWorld said, she died with her animal care specialists by her side.
“Despite her care team’s efforts, Amaya’s condition continued to decline rapidly. Her death was sudden and unexpected,” SeaWorld said.
The name Amaya means “night rain,” the website said, and credited the young whale with helping SeaWorld “gather and share critical information about calf development for researchers studying wild populations.”
The exact cause of death is unknown but a post-mortem exam is being done and results may take several weeks, according to SeaWorld.
Amaya lived at SeaWorld with her mother and father – Kalia and Ulises, according to the theme park’s website. She was said to be one of the most playful whales in the pod and loved interacting with her animal care specialists.
The death comes several years after SeaWorld announced it was ending its orca breeding program in 2016 amid criticism about how it treated the orcas in captivity. The 2013 CNN documentary film “Blackfish” highlighted the issue, telling the story of a SeaWorld trainer killed by the 12,000-pound orca Tilikum in 2010.
The orcas in SeaWorld’s care are the last generation of the mammals to be enclosed at the water parks, the company said in 2016. SeaWorld said it was moving away from theatrical killer whale shows and moving toward educational programs.
SeaWorld San Diego now has nine orcas in its care. CNN has reached out to SeaWorld for more information on its captive orca program.
CNN’s Chris Boyette and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.