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Morgan’s Unusual Training At Loro Parque

November 4, 2013

From what I am told, Morgan spends a lot of time alone, and has very little involvement in the Loro Parque orca show (spending many shows alone in the med pool). But as this video shows, Loro Parque continues to experiment with different training systems for Morgan, and is working on show tricks. This appears to be a visual system of letting Morgan know when she has performed correctly (known as a “bridge”). If I get more detail or insight into this bridging system I will post it.

UPDATE: I received an e-mail from someone who follows Morgan’s situation closely, which adds detail to Morgan’s training program. Part of the information is based on a presentation about Morgan at the recent IMATA conference (which also produced this).

In the IMATA presentation they described the plan they have to develop a bridge for Morgan so that she can participate in shows. 

The light on a pole you see being used in the video is a way to teach Morgan to connect the original bridge (hand signal) with the light bridge so that she will eventually just respond to the light bridge. The intention is to install lights in the walls at various places around the pools, which will be controlled by a trainer holding some kind of a remote. The idea is that Morgan will have a visual underwater bridge that is visible to her from anywhere in the pool to let her know she’s done what was asked and can return to the trainer. At the moment, wherever Morgan performs in the pool, there has to be a trainer at that part of the pool to bridge her which somewhat limits her performances. When I was at Loro Parque in November of last year, I saw Morgan slide out at the end of a show on cue, but one of the trainers appeared to have forgotten this and there was no one at the slide out to bridge her. She obediently stayed in her pose while looking (in my opinion) a little unsure of what to do next until a trainer had run around the perimeter of the pool to be within her vision for the hand bridge.

Also, Morgan does follow the other whales if they are sent on a behavior together. So, the example being used in this video was Morgan and Tekoa sent on a bow (jump) together. Sent alone, Morgan did not respond to a whistle bridge, only a visual. But when sent with Tekoa, and bridged with only a whistle, Morgan followed his example when he returned to the trainer upon hearing the bridge.

One final detail, for Morgan-aholics, in the IMATA presentation Morgan’s size was updated as 15.45 feet in length and 3,570 lbs.

Anyone else have any insights, or more information about the IMATA presentation on Morgan?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2013 8:44 am

    Tim, any idea what the pole they are putting in the water is for?

    • Steve permalink
      November 4, 2013 11:10 am

      “The light on a pole you see being used in the video is a way to teach Morgan to connect the original bridge (hand signal) with the light bridge so that she will eventually just respond to the light bridge.”

  2. Adam Hughes permalink
    November 4, 2013 8:51 am

    Reblogged this on Freedom for Cetaceans.

  3. November 4, 2013 1:55 pm

    Why does this whale not respond to the whistle, is she deaf?

    • Taylor permalink
      November 4, 2013 7:48 pm

      Morgan is believed to be deaf, yes.

      • November 5, 2013 1:49 am

        Oh my, this breaks my heart…………… to make her do tricks is abuse!

  4. Helen permalink
    November 4, 2013 4:40 pm

    You might find this helpful. A video of a tropical fish being taught to “back up” using a red light to mark the correct behaviour:

  5. Jules permalink
    November 4, 2013 5:50 pm

    Tim, I may have misunderstood this, but I thought the permit for Morgan forbade LP from using her in commercial shows? Did I miss something? It seems nobody talks about this anymore and everybody accepts that she will be integrated into the commercial shows and used to generate profit for LP. I thought the original export permit from the Netherlands stated that she should be with other orca, but only be used for research, not profit. And who owns Morgan now? Loro Parque? Seaworld? Norway?

    • November 4, 2013 6:01 pm

      That is something that has always puzzled me, too. But presumably it will be raised in Morgan’s appeal on Dec. 3. Ownership is also a bit murky, though SeaWorld claimed ownership of Morgan in the SEC filings related to its IPO earlier this year.

  6. Kristy permalink
    November 5, 2013 10:32 am

    This is sick! If she is truly deaf, they are abusing her even more and trying to use her diability as a reason to “save her from the wild”! She was not abandoned by her pod (if she was deaf) and they will accept her back if we can win this battle. I believe she can hear/feel the echolocation since they are higher pitched and can feel vibrations!
    I wish the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or other disability advocacy groups should get involved with Morgan’s case!

  7. Kristy permalink
    November 5, 2013 11:33 am

    Proof that Morgan can return to the wild with a disbility!

  8. Raguoc permalink
    November 21, 2013 11:19 am


    a physical disability and an acoustic disability for killer whales are two very different things. A swimming hindrance does not prevent a killer whale from echolocating to locate objects (anything from food to boats to members of the pod) and it does not prevent the animal from communicating with other members of the group. An acoustic disability, however, would prevent all of that. Acoustics are everything to these animals. A wild killer whale with an acoustic disability is akin to a human being who is deaf and blind attempting to function in life with no aids. An impossibility.

    To my knowledge, of the known cases of physical disability in wild killer whales that are cared for by the pod, those animals have never been found stranded and emaciated. There is a reason that Morgan was.

    Picture it: you are a young killer whale and you can’t hear. You swim a little further away from your group than normal and you can no longer see them and they can’t see you. You call to them but you can’t hear a response. They call to you, but you can’t hear that either. So you don’t know where they are. You can echolocate, but you can’t receive the frequencies coming back to you. You are, essentially blind, and suddenly, very, very lost and alone, and most crucially, unable to find food.

    This is probably how Morgan’s situation came about. Furthermore, if she is released and re-joins her group, there is nothing preventing the exact same situation from happening again.

    IF Morgan is deaf, as evidence suggests, a rehab and release back into the wild would not work and would be highly dangerous.

    • Kristy permalink
      November 21, 2013 11:38 am

      Thanks for your’ intelligent response. I am very familiar with persons with disabilities and work with them in my profession. I actually was referring to the fact that her pod could help assist her, not abandon her. In the link, it shows sharing of the hunt and protection, which I believe her pod would do. Thanks & let’s hope Morgan can be free, praying for December 3rd hearing!

  9. Kristy permalink
    November 21, 2013 11:41 am

    Also, there are many people questioning whether or not Morgan is actually deaf. Is this just an excuse for captivity? If she truly is deaf, do you fell lilfe at Loro parque is acceptable@ Raguoc?
    What is your solution?

    • Raguoc permalink
      November 22, 2013 3:00 pm

      Good to meet a fellow philanthropist. I also work within special needs areas (autistic children).

      I’m not suggesting that Morgan’s pod would abandon her and of course, for as long as she is with them, feeding would not be an issue. The problem is, that there is nothing stopping Morgan from being accidentally separated a second time. All that would need to happen is for Morgan to swim a little out of sight of the group (not far in the limited visibility of North Atlantic waters) and she wouldn’t know where she was. A hearing impairment would prevent her from communicating with her pod and vice versa. That momentary separation, is, I believe, how Morgan got lost originally and I don’t see what would prevent it from happening again.

      A natural answer to Morgan’s predicament, if she is unsuitable for release, would be a seapen, but this would leave Morgan alone. She could be taken out to interact with wild orcas via “walks” as with Keiko, but that problem is that in the areas of Norway where there are concentrations of wild orcas and where Morgan has potential relatives are also areas of high boat traffic. There are multiple whale-watching businesses and fisheries. I’ve been whale-watching in the area where Morgan is believed to have come from, and I can assure you, on any given day, the area is packed with boats. This poses a very severe safety concern for Morgan who would know no fear of either boats or people. In the case of the more offshore orca population, away from such high concentrations of human activity, different pods appear sparingly. Interaction is not guaranteed. The offshore waters can also be extremely rough, particularly in winter and would require a large vessel. Again, this presents considerable danger to Morgan, but also to those accompanying her on these explorations. Furthermore, in winter, so close to the Arctic some days see almost 24 hour darkness. For an orca that relies on visual stimuli to interact both with nature, and potential caregivers, this poses problems. If Morgan was in a seapen, for her safety, leaving it would not be advisable. Which means that Morgan would be in solitary with only the company of her carers.

      For that reason, and because I believe that the most important thing (above all other circumstance – space, lifestyle etc) for any orca is social company, Morgan would be better off living in a captive environment with a correct social environment than spending life alone in a sea pen. It’s not to say that the seapen option could not be attempted with Morgan, but at what risk?

      Loro Parque is NOT the place for Morgan. She should never have been sent there. She was sent to that facility for one reason: SeaWorld. SeaWorld have been involved with Morgan from the start, she is extremely valuable to them as they have a severe genetic bottleneck with their captive population. Morgan was sent to Loro Parque with which SW have an extremely close working relationship and where they can dictate what happens with her. Morgan has her own SW ID number, just like all their other animals.

      As it is well known, the social situation at Loro Parque is dire and the facility is new and many staff are inexperienced. If Morgan has to stay in captivity, the decision as to where must be taken with regard to her socialisation and best well-being. I have my own theories as to the best place for her but that’s irrelevant for now.

      The hearing in Dutch court in December, if successful, is not the happy ending. Morgan is now under Spanish jurisdiction. The campaign would then have to go to Spanish courts. Bearing in mind Spain’s economic situation, and the fact that Loro Parque is the largest tourist attraction of the state, and that Spain is not exactly a leader in animal rights, the likelihood of winning a case there is in my opinion, even less than that of Dutch courts.

      Morgan should absolutely not be given up on or forgotten about and certainly, she could do a great deal better than Loro Parque, seapen or not. But her case involves a great deal of factors. Both sides of the debate need to keep an open mind because the obvious answer is not always the correct one. Thankfully, we have people such as Mr. Zimmerman and Dr. Visser who continue to keep the debate public.


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