Shamu, the killer whale at Sea World, became a father Sunday when his mate, 12-year-old Kenau, gave birth to a 350-pound, seven-foot female calf at 8:35 a.m., Sea World officials said.
The baby, which has yet to be named, is black and white, the natural color of killer whales. The mother, which had a gestation period of 17 months, was in labor four or five hours, the park's zoological director, Dr. Lanny H. Cornell, said.
Sea World officials expressed "guarded optimism" for the baby whale's progress. First-born marine mammals often experience a high mortality rate because of medical complications, predation, or the failure to establish a maternal bond, officials said.
"The first few days after birth are always critical with whales, dolphins and even humans," spokeswoman Jackie Hill said.
In this case, the baby has begun nursing and her father, 27-year-old Shamu, seemed interested in his progeny, but the staff is keeping a round-the-clock vigil, officials said.
"We won't be out of the woods with a newborn like this for several months. But for a day-old calf, it just looks great," Cornell said.
Of five killer whales born in captivity in Ranch Palos Verdes' Marineland, none has survived.
The baby stays close to its mother while nursing, which it does several times within an hour, Cornell said. "She takes in a pint or two (of mother's milk) every time she nurses. It comes to four or five gallons a day," Cornell said.
It may be four to six months before the youngster begins to eat solid food, Cornell said.
For the next few days, the Sea World killer whale shows will go on in a modified form, Cornell said. The public will be allowed to come in and see the baby and mother throughout the day while the baby becomes accustomed to its surroundings.
"We don't want to disrupt the bonding between mother and child," Cornell said.
"A couple of times during the day, trainers will answer questions from the audience," spokeswoman Jackie Hill said.
When the latest addition to the killer whale family at Sea World gets into the swim of things, it most likely will begin to participate in the regular shows, Cornell said.
Shamu's first daughter, Baby Shamu, born last September at the Orlando, Fla., Sea World, became integrated into the routine there within a few days of birth. It is hoped that the new daughter will do the same, Cornell said.
As for the daddy, Cornell said Shamu was concerned, observant and interested in the calf. "There's a lot of talking going on" among the whales, Cornell said.