LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Bubbles, a female pilot whale at SeaWorld in San Diego that was believed to have been the oldest animal of its species in a zoological park, has died, the company said.
In an online posting, SeaWorld Entertainment said Bubbles was in its 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 world's most beloved animals, Bubbles the pilot whale," the company said on its website (www.seaworldcares.com).
A necropsy is 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.
Pilot whales, which have rounded heads and mouthlines that curve upward to resemble a smile, are in 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 over 1,300kg and measuring 5m long, Bubbles was considered the "grande dame"of SeaWorld. It was known for its ability to jump out of the water and spin at great velocity.
SeaWorld has faced intense public scrutiny over its public display of marine animals, especially killer whales.
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.