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Morgan’s Life At Loro Parque

December 24, 2011

I’ve been getting a lot of updates from folks who are worried about how Morgan is being treated by the other killer whales at Loro Parque. The first flurry of concern was related to this image of Morgan’s dorsal film, which was screen-capped from a video, and appears to show bite marks on Morgan’s dorsal fin.

I was also tipped to this video, which appears on a Facebook group called Occupy Loro Parque. It shows Loro Parque owner Wolfgang Kiessling walking over to the med pool after a show, to discuss Morgan and take a look at her dorsal with two trainers.  Fast forward to the 2:20 mark, where Kiessling makes an appearance:

Finally, I was sent a link to this video, which appears to show Morgan, Kohana and Skyla swimming together in the main show pool. I am not enough of an expert on killer whale behavior to evaluate whether Morgan is being harassed or chased, and what her vocals indicate. But the video does show what appears to be this pretty nasty rake along her side.

Here is the full video, for comment and analysis.

UPDATE: Since I posted the above video it has been removed from YouTube. It has been republished here by someone who wanted to preserve the record of Morgan’s life at Loro Parque. Here is the republished version:

The social grouping at Loro Parque has always been a volatile one, and it is impressive to see the degree to which Morgan’s welfare there is being tracked with such passion and commitment.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Today, December 24, is the 2-year anniversary of the death of Alexis Martinez, who was killed by Keto at Loro Parque on Dec. 24, 2009. I never met Alexis, but I have met his family. They are wonderful, caring, people who are handling a tragic loss with courage and  grace. I am amazed by their strength and they deserve all the love and support the world can offer them on this most difficult day of the year.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Lahnna permalink
    December 24, 2011 10:38 am

    I dunno about you, but I’m having trouble believing that they’re merely playing. Especially when Morgan is the one getting relentlessly chased, and bitten by the other two.

    I know were are left to speculate because of our lack of expertise and not having all of the details, but given the behavior, and the fresh rake marks, I’d say she’s having a rough time. Anyone who’s been keeping tabs, keep at it🙂 Everyone’s been so attentive so far.

  2. Bernardo Alps permalink
    December 24, 2011 10:39 am

    Interesting that the stands are almost empty in the first video. Wolfgang really appears to be looking at some injury or other abnormality. It would be interesting to know what annoyed him so much as he first approached Morgan.

    In the second video, a woman speaking in German who is obviously affiliated with the institution (she says “OUR trainers don’t go in the water anymore”) calls killer whales “brutal” in the way they interact and calls the ramming and biting “play.”

  3. Orca_S permalink
    December 24, 2011 10:40 am

    Has the video been shown to experts yet?

  4. Common Sensical permalink
    December 24, 2011 1:18 pm


    You don’t need to be an expert to know that all cetaceans fight and display dominance. All cetaceans rake eachother. Corky does it to Nakai. Orkid does it to Ulises. There is a huge difference between bullying (Keto and Tekoa) and displaying dominance. (Kohana and Morgan)

    And there is no blood in that video. Just bits of scraped off skin. And then Morgan poops.

    • Jordan permalink
      December 25, 2011 11:41 am

      There’s a big difference between nipping/swift peck at them to put them in line by an adult orca, and two teenager orcas harassing the hell out of a juvenile with no adults to intervene.

      • Common Sensical permalink
        December 25, 2011 5:01 pm

        Kohana and Skyla are displaying dominance.

        Wild orcas get nasty rake marks all the time. And just because this is captivity, does not mean wild orcas don’t bully eachother either.

        It doesn’t take an expert to know that.

      • Jordan permalink
        December 26, 2011 1:07 pm

        I’m well aware of wild orcas getting rake marks due to playing or pecking order. How come I’m not seeing instances of wild orcas bully each other, then? Why isn’t there literature or video proof of this harassment?

        Yeah, there are still new discoveries being made about different ecotypes’ cultures and lifestyles, such as Antarctic orcas heading to the tropics to rid themselves of diatoms embedded in their skin, and orcas making massive trips up and down the New Zealand coasts to seek out dolphin populations that happen to be calving at that time.

        Aside from an episode where a Southern Resident pod drove out transient orcas from the bay, in order to protect a SR member that had just given birth to a calf during that span of time, it doesn’t take an expert to realize there isn’t published information of any specific instance of “bullying” in the wild, because it hasn’t ever been observed in the wild. I will be happy to give the doubt to the fact that wild orcas can only be seen at the surface 30% of the time (resting, breathing, playing), and the rest spent underwater, so we can’t catch what all goes on under the water’s surface and ocean depths.

        BUT, considering the Northern and Southern Resident pods have been studied for over 40 years now, with transients about 3/4 of that time, Crozet Island populations for over 20, Antarctic orcas for a little over a decade, and New Zealand populations for a little over a decade as well, I would have think this sort of behavior would have been observed, presented and published into the scientific community, and eventually reached to media outlets to be published for general public consumption and yet I haven’t.

      • Common Sensical permalink
        December 26, 2011 2:13 pm

        “How come I’m not seeing instances of wild orcas bully each other, then? Why isn’t there literature or video proof of this harassment?”

        We are talking about Morgan. Not Keto and Tekoa. BTW, Orkid bullies Ulises sometimes you know… why is this anti-cap cult not sharing articles on that?

        “I would have think this sort of behavior would have been observed,”
        That means nothing. There are MANY animals we have been studying for decades, and we find new things about them all the time.

        And seriously? What’s your point? This pecking order behavior in captivity is no different than pecking order behavior of orcas in the wild. ALL animals fight. ALL orcas have a pecking order. Morgan JUST moved to LP; its COMMON SENSE its going to happen. When Taku moved to SWT, he was “beat up” too. When Ikaika moved to SWC, he was “beat up” too. This is the life of orcas. This is what they do. You people are just trying to find some excuse to attack captivity. You will always be against captivity, so why bother talk to me? You can think what you want, on the other hand, I will know the truth. Say whatever you’d like, it won’t change the facts, Jordon.

      • Jordan permalink
        December 26, 2011 3:53 pm

        Maybe if you stop being a smartass and provide us with these articles you’re talking about, maybe we’ll be more willing to share them and discuss them, and be an expert like you! Now there’s a thought! :O!

        In b4 “go search Google” because I already have and I’m getting a number of sites I’ve seen either checked before or sites that haven’t been updated/touched upon in a few years.

      • Common Sensical permalink
        December 26, 2011 6:57 pm

        You failed to reply to anything I said.

        If I’m “soooo wrong,” why aren’t you proving me wrong instead of saying what I state is all wrong?

  5. Anita permalink
    December 24, 2011 2:07 pm

    You don’t need to be an Orca expert to know that this happens in captivity (!) all the time. Because animals from very different backgrounds have been put together. SeaWorld and sorts like to call it playing.

  6. Jackie Kelly permalink
    December 24, 2011 2:39 pm

    Thank you Mr. Zimmerman for this editorial. Im no expert and I know all orca fight, bite and rake each other, however its not that common (from all the documentaries and studies done by world renowned orca experts that Ive seen and read) for an orca as young as Morgan, female, to have to go through this, she isnt mature enough to be forced to have to deal with this behavior yet. Talk about throwing her in at the deep end so to speak, who knows what kind of psychological trauma this will have on her. Then again, I find it hard to believe that the so called experts…sorry…typo…I meant the Sea World experts have Morgans physical and mental welbeing as their priority! Considering they tell the world they are experts then I would like to know who’s ‘bright’ idea it was in the first place to send a ‘pod’ of immature orca to live in the same pool without an established matriarch, even I…a non expert, know this was a recipe for disaster.

    • Lahnna permalink
      December 26, 2011 8:44 pm

      Tilikum is a very good example of a once-wild, now-captive orca that is dealing with scars related to his history of being bullied by his captive pod. He’s a sub-dominant male that has been very near the bottom of the ladder since he was brought into captivity. Given their large brains, vast intellect, and capacity for emotion, it would be folly to think that those experiences wouldn’t have a lasting effect on such a creature.

  7. December 24, 2011 3:42 pm

    Thanks for this visual evidence that Morgan is having a rough time at LP. Southern Resident orcas, and most others around the world, also show occasional rakes, so that alone is not conclusive proof of real danger for Morgan, but the ramming continues or gets worse, or if they keep her separate from the others and acknowledge that she can’t integrate with them, Morgan could be in real trouble.

    • Anne permalink
      December 24, 2011 10:15 pm

      Mr. Garrett,

      In your honest opinion, without a proper matriarch, and with the difference in “Culture” for lack of a better word is it even plausible for this grouping to ever work it out? I imagine there is a language barrier between Morgan and the others as well as other differences. I am curious as to your thoughts on this, for the most part don’t Orca pods in the wild remain somewhat separate communities or are there ever instances on record where orphaned members might be adopted by a pod outside of their family line?

  8. Jackie Kelly permalink
    December 25, 2011 10:33 pm

    In the last 2 days…or since this report and video went viral I have heard over and over again from pro caps that ‘all thats happening in the video is Kohana proving her dominance’…’letting Morgan know whos in charge’!! The only conclusion I can come to with those comments is…the pro caps do not have even the first idea of what dominance is about. Im sorry but true dominance is not…is never…an ongoing thing in any social group unless the ‘new kid on the block/the up and coming juvenile’ is prepared to put up a fight…Morgan is NOT putting up a fight in any way, shape or form, she is trying to escape…consistently, this shows and proves she has no interest in being ‘top orca’. A truely dominant orca would know this within hours if not minutes and would not need to continue to prove their status….Skyla is NOT a dominant orca…Kohana has already well and truly put her in her place…what you see in this video is nothing more, nothing less than aggressive behavious towards Morgan and bullying….if this happened in the wild, Morgan….well the fact that she is only 4 years old, it wouldnt be happening anyways, but bottom line is if she were being attacked like this she would have already taken off, away from the aggressors!! Morgans relatives were located and there is no reason to think that Morgan would not have been accepted into a pod of relatives, especially being a young female. Its been done before with Springer (A73…SWKW), its been done with pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, false killer whales….why not Morgan??? Over 40 experts including 4 of the 7 employed by Dolphinarium Harderwijk agreed she should be rehabbed and released…but a large company, Sea World…(interesting they knew about Morgan before actual experts did) wins again. Reality is money talks, with money you can get anything you want, even a wild caught orca…which is illegal!!!

    • Lahnna permalink
      December 26, 2011 8:49 pm

      Good point, Jackie. Morgan isn’t testing her boundaries at all, she’s running away every time we see her, but to no avail of course. She swims to the other end of her tank, only to return seconds later, and back again. I don’t think an orca as young as Morgan would really have the capacity to test the older, more experienced orcas’ dominance.

  9. Common Sensical permalink
    December 27, 2011 10:39 pm

    Orca’s Life In The Wild
    December 27, 2011


  10. December 28, 2011 12:00 am

    You tell me Morgan’s rakes are bad? LOL you had seen NOTHING this wild orcas have much worse wounds and Morgan’s rakes aren’t even close to none of those so don’t said she is having a rough time. It was expected that she would get a few rake marks.

    Plus there are OTHER ANIMALS in the world that need more help then a happy and well fed orca that is being with other orcas, at least she have other orcas now she is not alone in Harderwijk’s tank anymore and she have lots of space now.

    Kohana is being dominant and showing Morgan who is the boss. Lahnna you seem to actually to be “humanizing” Morgan as you said she is young and doesn’t know about dominance but ALL young animals learn about it since they are still babies, the older ones have to teach them who is the boss. In this case Morgan will learn that Kohana is the boss. If she fought back it will be worse cause it would be like if she is challenging Kohana so Morgan does know what she is doing by just swimming away.

  11. December 28, 2011 12:34 am

    Actually Jackie, with Springer we KNEW her family very well. With Morgan we don’t its very hard to find her exact pod. Plus it would cost MILLIONS of euros, “freeing” Keiko costed about 54 millions of dollars and after only 2 years they eventually ran out of money. Orcas arent like dolphins and pilot whales, if you free a group of MALE dolphins or male pilot whales they can join other group in the wild without a problem.

    Orcas in the wild don’t accept other orcas that they dont recognize as part of their pod so they get rejected if they want to join the pod, in captivity it’s different after sorting out dominance, thats it.

    • January 3, 2012 4:10 pm

      but its not it, is it? they don’t settle into groups at all…

  12. jmventre permalink
    January 2, 2012 2:36 pm

    Tim, thank you for posting this as it brings to light an important point, and one that John Jett PhD and I wrote about. That is the lack of spatial escape options for captives, such as Morgan. They have no where to “run.” Although it’s true that wild orca (of all ecotypes) sometimes rake/mouth each other, there is one significant difference; these wild subdominant animals have had enough, they can simply swim away. In Morgan’s situation (at Loro Parque) she is bullied for hours at a time; then tries to flee, but is prohibited by a cement wall. I’ve seen this first hand when Gudrun was introduced to SWF in 1987 and then again when Kalina was returned to SWF in 1994. Both females were harassed for extended periods. JJ coined the term “skywriting” which referred to the trails of blood that would stream off the injured animals into the clear pools. Both Gud/Tai also suffered significant teeth damage, which I believe is a natural extension of these events; when the subdominant captive killer whale starts to react/respond more aggressively, jaw popping and teeth fracturing then begins.

    Here is a link to “Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Captivity.” The passage I refer to is on page one. There is information regarding jaw popping, pulpotomies, and how that leads to early death in captivity.

    Another recent post from an Indian publication has a lot of photos from Loro Parque, and some comments here:

    • someone permalink
      June 13, 2016 4:14 pm

      “Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Captivity.”

      Excuse me, Jeff. I left a comment in one of your videos and you replied, denying that you stated that Orcas attack people out of frustration or stress from captivity, those few times in their lives that they do so. Now you changed again?

  13. January 3, 2012 4:08 pm

    It sickens me to hear the man laugh at poor Morgan being beaten up. Disgusting.

  14. Roberto permalink
    April 4, 2012 8:17 am

    As I pointed out in the article ‘The Trials Of Tekoa’:

    Dr. Ingrid Visser showed in 1998 how wild animales also present this kind of rake marks.

    What would you expect from captivity population?


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