Bubbles, the oldest pilot whale in captivity, dies at SeaWorld

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Bubbles was in her early 50s and had lived at the park in San Diego for nearly 30 years

Bubbles, a female pilot whale at SeaWorld in San Diego that was believed to have been the oldest animal of her species in a zoological park, has died.

In an online statement, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc said Bubbles was in her early to mid 50s and had been at the park for nearly 30 years.

SeaWorld San Diego is saddened to announce the passing of one of the worlds most beloved animals, Bubbles the pilot whale, the company said on its website.

A necropsy was planned to determine the cause of death. The company, which operates marine parks in San Diego, San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida, did not say when she died.

Pilots whales, which have rounded heads and mouthlines that curve upward to resemble a smile, are part of the dolphin family and are smaller than orcas, or killer whales.

Pilots, which live in pods of 20 or 90 animals, are about as intelligent as dolphins and easily trained, according to the American Cetacean Society.

Weighing roughly 3,000 pounds (1,360kg) and measuring 15 feet (5m) long, Bubbles was considered the grande dame of SeaWorld. She was known for her ability to jump out of the water and spin at great speed.

SeaWorld has faced intense public scrutiny over its public display of marine animals, especially killer whales, following the highly-critical documentary Blackfish.

In March, the company said it would stop breeding killer whales in captivity, but would still put on performances with orcas at its three parks.

The death of Bubbles reignited anger on social media over the practice of keeping whales and other marine animals in captivity.

PETA (@peta) June 10, 2016

Youre free now. Kidnapped from the wild & forced to be captive for years, pilot whale Bubbles has died at #SeaWorld https://t.co/OUCno0k2Ns

Quad Finn (@QuadSeaShepherd) June 10, 2016

RIP Bubbles: @SeaWorld‘s oldest captive still died far short of average lifespan of 63 years for female pilot whales pic.twitter.com/uwVayF6XF4

Amber Noelle Morasse (@sliceofamberpie) June 10, 2016

Bubbles was captured in US waters in 1966 & spent the rest of her life in a tank She deserved better. https://t.co/7xaFF3LeqD #Blackfish

Reuters contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/12/bubbles-the-oldest-pilot-whale-in-captivity-dies-at-seaworld