GoPro Hero Series: Orca Rescue

Starring our pal Dr. Ingrid Visser. Some amazing and inspired footage once you get through the classroom stuff at the beginning (disclosure: I fast-forwarded; sorry, Ingrid!).

Here’s GoPro’s summary:

The sixth and final of the HERO4: The Adventure of Life in 4K series.

Dr. Ingrid Visser dedicates her life and her research to help the most intelligent predator on earth – Orca. She swims with wild orca and advocates for modern solutions to release orcas from captivity.

Shot on location in New Zealand, this short film documents Ingrid’s life mission to preserve wild orca through education & leading rescue missions to save orca from shallow waters & fishing line entanglements.

Includes never-before-seen footage of a GoPro mounted to the dorsal fin of a wild orca plus various archival footage and pictures from the Orca Research Trust.

Morgan’s Fate At Loro Parque

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 9.59.30 PM

A decision on whether Morgan, the lost young female orca, should remain at Loro Parque is due anytime, and could be released this Wednesday.

The arguments over Morgan have always been based on two completely different, and contradictory, narratives of her life at Loro Parque. Today, over on The Dodo, I took a look at what both sides claim regarding Morgan’s well-being, and how a pregnancy is the big wild card, and would seal her fate if it happens.

Here’s a key part of the story:

Loro Parque, in a statement e-mailed in response to a request for comment, calls Visser’s argument “erroneous and misleading,” as well as “emotionally charged. The statement goes on to try and rebut each of Visser’s claims one by one, and dismisses Visser’s work as an “animal activist opinion piece.” For Morgan, the statement flatly states, “negative welfare conditions do not exist.”

“I’m not an activist. I am a scientist who happens to care about the welfare of animals,” Visser responds. “There is a big difference.” Moreover, Visser’s research and conclusions about Morgan’s life at Loro Parque have won an interesting advocate in Jeff Foster, who spent decades catching killer whales, dolphins, and other animals for SeaWorld and other marine parks. Foster knows a lot about killer whales and how they handle captivity, and is not opposed to captivity for killer whales if they are well-integrated into a stable environment. After observing Loro Parque’s videos of Morgan he was initially skeptical that her experience at Loro Parque was as negative as Visser believes. But based on two trips to observe Morgan (the most recent was last Fall), Foster says he fully agrees that the group of SeaWorld killer whales at Loro Parque is dysfunctional, that Morgan has not been well-integrated, and that Morgan is suffering. “It’s pretty obvious. She’s crying out in distress almost all the time,” Foster says. “You usually don’t hear those vocals from animals unless they are really in distress. The only time I’ve heard them is when we were catching whales and separating them from their families.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Here’s a brief video, showing Morgan’s isolation during a show at Loro Parque earlier this year.

New Zealand Orca Stranding Update

Yesterday, I happened to catch up briefly with New Zealand orca scientist Ingrid Visser, and she gave me an update on the nine New Zealand orcas who died after stranding last week

Visser raced to the scene after hearing about the stranding. She has spent decades studying and swimming with local New Zealand orcas, and she feared she was going to know these particular animals. If these killer whales had been from the group Visser studies, it would have meant that 4-5% of New Zealand’s local orca population had stranded and died at one time, a devastating blow.

However, when Visser arrived she didn’t recognize any of the orcas and doesn’t believe any appear in her photo-ID catalogue. In addition, many of the orcas had healed Cookie Cutter shark bites on their dorsals, and worn teeth, which is not typical for the New Zealand coastal orca population that Visser studies.

Visser and others worked pre-dawn to post-dusk collecting samples from the orcas, with the cooperation and support of the local Maori people. In addition to blubber and organ samples, Visser said the heads from all nine orcas were collected. The heads and tissue samples will be analyzed in an effort to better understand why the orcas stranded and died. Visser says that there were no obvious indications of what might have driven the orcas ashore. No obvious trauma, and no blood from the eyes, ears or anus, which can indicate acoustical trauma. None of the orcas was pregnant. 

“we’ll do more studies later,” Visser concludes. “At this stage there is nothing that we can tell immediately, and nothing that we could tell might have triggered the stranding.”


When (Not) Seeing Is Important

As regular readers will know, I like to say “Seeing Is Important” because seeing helps people understand (and believe) the reality of what goes on in the world, whether at a marine park or a factory farm.

So I was struck by the following tidbit in Elizabeth Batt’s report on legal threats made against Dr. Ingrid Visser over her reports about orca Morgan’s experience at Loro Parque.

This is the gate at the entrance to Loro Parque’s Orca Ocean as it was last June (and was when I was there last year):

And this is the same gate in July 2011 (and presumably today):

Notice a difference? Visser has used her camera to tell Morgan’s story at Loro Parque in devastating detail. So Loro Parque took measures to make it hard or impossible for visitors to see what is going on with the orca outside of shows.

It’s an obvious response. But when an industry or corporation is blocking access, and becoming less transparent, it is a sign that all is not well inside, and that the industry is afraid of what the public might think if they truly understood what goes on behind closed doors (and hastily erected fences). For that sort of business “Not Seeing Is Important.”

Batt publishes one other “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words” picture taken by Visser. It shows SeaWorld’s Chief Zoological officer, Brad Andrews, taking in the orca show alongside Kiessling.

SeaWorld, despite protestations to the contrary, has long had a very close working relationship with Loro Parque, and helped launch its orca program. If Morgan is used for breeding it will bbe very interesting–and telling–to see where the calves go.

Anyhow, I doubt that fences or legal threats can slow Visser down. And her work is making a difference, judging from the number of people who have signed this petition calling for Morgan’s release. The Dutch court will issue a ruling on Morgan’s fate on Dec. 13. Whether it calls for the revisitation of the Dutch ministry decision to send Morgan to Loro Parque or not, Visser will have accomplished something very important simply by making so many people aware of Morgan’s story.


Orca Morgan: Ingrid Visser’s Presentation To The Dutch Court

Credit: Ingrid Visser

On Nov. 1, there was a hearing in the Netherlands to review the legal process by which Morgan was sent to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. Dr. Ingrid Visser, on behalf of the Free Morgan Foundation testified on behalf of Morgan, arguing that Morgan’s life at Loro Parque violates the terms under which she was transferred, and that for Morgan’s well-being the decision to send Morgan to Loro Parque should be reversed.

You can read an account of the hearing (PDF) by the Free Morgan Foundation here.

You can read Visser’s full report on Morgan’s physical status at Loro Parque, submitted in advance of the hearing, here.

Here’s the statement that the Free Morgan Foundation and Visser are releasing along with her slide presentation to the Dutch hearing:


Dr Ingrid Visser presented startling new findings from her October visit to Loro Parque.  Following on the heels of the data and images submitted to the Amsterdam Court, from her June visit, Dr Visser returned to check on Morgan’s welfare.  Unfortunately, Visser has found that the intervening 19 weeks have showed not only an escalation in aggression from the other orca, but Morgan has begun to exhibit a stereotypical behaviour which has not been documented before.  In this case, Morgan repeatedly bashes her head against the side of a gate closing mechanism.  Additionally, Morgan’s boredom and stress have manifested themselves in an acceleration of tooth wear, with a third of some teeth now permanently damaged and the tops worn off.  Blue paint on the teeth clearly shows that Morgan is biting concrete below the water surface.  Trainers have been photographed ignoring Morgan whilst she vies for their attention.

And here is the presentation itself:

Morgan PSA

The Free Morgan Foundation–in addition to Ingrid Visser’s report on Morgan’s life at Loro Parque–has released a PSA.

It takes an interesting angle, and asks people to think about orca captivity, and Morgan’s captivity in particular, from a human lens.

I don’t know enough about the Dutch court system to comment intelligently on what to expect from this hearing, and whether the facts of Morgan’s life at Loro Parque–as documented by Visser (PDF download here, and also vieweable as a Scribd embed here)–will figure in their thinking. Or whether the judges are mostly interested in reviewing the legal process which sent Morgan to Loro Parque.

But if the facts do end up weighing in the judges’ minds, then all credit to Visser and the Free Morgan Foundation for working so hard to get the facts out there.

The Case To Free Morgan

Next Thursday, Nov. 1, three Dutch judges will revisit last year’s decision to allow a rehabbing orca called Morgan to be shipped to Loro Parque in the Canary islands (instead of being released back into the wild).  The case is high profile, with Jean Michel Cousteau joining Morgan’s cause. But two of Morgan’s most persistent and dedicated advocates have been Dr. Ingrid Visser and Lara Pozzato of the Free Morgan Foundation.

In advance of the hearing, Dr. Visser has prepared and submitted a detailed brief arguing that Morgan’s life at Loro Parque is both detrimental to her welfare and in violation of the conditions under which she was sent to Loro Parque. It is both compelling and sobering, and you can read it right here.

Loro Parque, where trainer Alexis Martinez was killed in 2009, has long been a troubled environment for orcas. I urge you to read Visser’s full report for an extremely comprehensive look at Morgan’s life there, as well as visit the Free Morgan Foundation website for more details on Morgan’s history, and the current effort to free her.

Here are some pictures included in the report, along with the captions describing what you are seeing:

Figure 6. Morgan (head out of water, on right) as she is rammed and pushed backwards by the two female orca, Skyla and Kohana. Note the amount of water being displaced as Morgan is forced backwards.

Figure 7. The full-frame photograph of Figure 6. Note the trainers standing to the right. During all the attacks recorded by the author the trainers were present, yet ignored them.

Figure 8. Skyla (female orca, left, obscured by gate) rams Morgan (right) and partially lifts her out of the water. NOTE: Morgan’s lower caudal peduncle is concave from force of ramming (at impact site). Water is displaced at impact site & on Morgan’s left (right of frame). Morgan weighs 1364 kg, requiring her be to hit with a substantial force, in order for her to be lifted out of the water this high.

Figure 11. During a training session, Morgan (partially obscured behind rail), rises out of the water in an attempt to avoid a bite from one of the two orca in the tank with her (Skyla and Kohana). This photo is one of a sequence of images, showing the open mouth and teeth progressed along Morgan’s body as she rose up and then slid down, to try to avoid the conflict.

Figure 23. Morgan exhibits a hypertrophic scar on her lower jaws, most likely a result of repeatedly banging her chin on the concrete walls. Such stereotypic behaviour can become self mutilating to the point where the subcutaneous injury can become painful and itchy. Further damage to Morgan’s rostrum through stereotypic behaviour inflicted on (2 July 2012). The trainers (on the day she inflicted these wounds and after they were inflicted) commanded her to push a ball repeatedly on the end of rostrum, in order to receive her allocated fish. Also note that the tips of Morgan’s teeth are being worn off from chewing on the concrete (also see Figure 24).

These are only a few of the pictures and diagrams. There is much, much more about Morgan’s life at Loro Parque in the report.

Was Nakai Bitten? Analysis From Ingrid Visser

Ingrid Visser of the Orca Reasearch Trust, has spent twenty years studying and observing orcas in the wild.

Ingrid Visser

And she was responsible for taking this highly detailed picture of Nakai’s wound:

Nakai Wound

Perhaps the most important detail in this picture is the puncture marks which appear on the lower right margin of the wound, opening up the possibility that Nakai’s wound was caused by a bite from another orca, and not a collision with some part of the pool, as SeaWorld has suggested.

Now Visser has sent me a more detailed analysis of Nakai’s wound. Here it is:

The recent wound on the captive orca Nakai remains an enigma as to how it occurred.  When I first viewed (unreleased) photographs taken a week after the graphic injury, I was of the opinion that it was unlikely to have been inflicted by other orca, based on the fact that no orca teeth marks were clearly visible in the photos and the very ‘clean’ edges to the wound.

Regardless of the source of the wound, I didn’t buy the story from SeaWorld that Nakai had ‘come into contact with the pool’ (AP, Sept 28th 2012, press release), as to me such wording implied a light brush past, or perhaps at worst a bump into the side of the tank.  Clearly such a striking wound wasn’t from a light brush or even a ‘bump’. Continue reading “Was Nakai Bitten? Analysis From Ingrid Visser”

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