ORLANDO, Fla. -- A pregnant dolphin died at SeaWorld's Discovery Cove Sunday, causing an animal rights group to call for an investigation.
PETA wants the Department of Agriculture to determine whether the dolphin's prenatal care was adequate and if enough pain relief was given to the animal during the week-long period after labor started.
Scarlet, a 29-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, had pregnancy complications, but the necropsy report could take several weeks. Her calf died in utero, so she never gave birth.
Scarlet was born at SeaWorld San Diego in 1979 and moved to Discovery Cove in Orlando in 2000.
A spokesman for the theme park said the safety and well-being of animals is the park's top priority. While the park mourns the loss of any animal, birth and death are a natural part of the life cycle. Since 2000, Discovery Cove has had 18 successful dolphin births including four in the past three weeks.
PETA sent an urgent letter to the United States Department of Agriculture Tuesday regarding Scarlet and her care after the organization was alerted by a whistle blower, according to a news release.
"Scarlet lived a miserable life of deprivation in a tiny tank that's a fraction of the size of a dolphin's normal habitat, and she may have suffered immeasurable pain in the days leading up to her premature death," PETA Director Debbie Leahy said in a news release. "SeaWorld should get out of the marine-mammal business and spare dolphins the stress of gimmicky swim-with interactions and risky captive-breeding programs."
In its letter to the USDA, PETA asks for a "thorough investigation" and raises concerns of whether the dead fetus was removed from Scarlet. The letter says that Scarlet expelled blood and the veterinarian could not get his arm inside her womb to pull the baby out.
The USDA said it will examine the complaint for validity and applicability under the law, and, if appropriate, assign a inspector to the case who would investigate the incident at SeaWorld by interviewing people and reviewing Scarlet's necropsy report.
PETA said it relies on zoo employees to report animal abuse.