#Blackfish Archives: Keto/Alexis Martinez Incident Reports

After Alexis Martinez was killed by Keto, both SeaWorld/Loro Parque and the Canary Islands OSHA equivalent launched investigations into the incident. These reports are the most detailed and revealing accounts of exactly what happened between Keto and Alexis Martinez (and you can read my reporting and analysis of what they mean in my story about Alexis’ death).

Here is the SeaWorld/Loro Parque corporate incident report:

Here is the Canary Islands Dept. Of Labor Report (Spanish):

#Blackfish Archives: Alexis Martinez Case Files

Continuing to archive documents and reports related to the tragic death of trainer Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in December, 2009, this upload includes (in Spanish): Preliminary Pathology; Police Interviews; Hospital Summaries; Autopsy Report; Excerpts From Alexis’ Diary Of Work At Loro Parque; Timeline Summary of Loro Parque video of incident; Labor Dept. Investigation.

Blackfish Archives: Profile Of Keto

Loro Parque Killer Whales

In December 2009, killer whale trainer Alexis Martinez was killed at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands by Keto, an orca that had been transferred there by SeaWorld. At the time, Martinez’s tragic death got little attention. But when SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed just over two months later at Sea World in Orlando, Martinez’s death became the warning that no one listened to.

I wrote a story investigating how and why Martinez was killed,  how it was handled, and why it was relevant to Brancheau’s subsequent death. In the course of my reporting, I collected a lot of documentation. As part of my ongoing effort to post documents and materials collected during my reporting on killer whale captivity to a publicly accessible Blackfish Archives, I am posting Keto’s SeaWorld profile as the initial document which helps tell the story of Keto and Alexis Martinez (at the time my story was published I also posted a detailed and troubling review of the many problems at Loro Parque written by Suzanne Allee, who worked at Loro Parque). .

Morgan In Captivity

I was going through computer files the other day, and I came across an archive of stuff I have on Morgan at Loro Parque. I have always felt a sadness for Morgan, picked up off the Dutch coast in 2010 and now at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. (I wrote about Loro Parque in 2011, because that is where trainer Alexis Martinez was killed by a SeaWorld killer whale just a few months before Dawn Brancheau was killed in Florida).

You can read all about Morgan, and how she came to be at Loro Parque, here. The story has a lot of twists and turns, but the bottom line is that Morgan is a recently wild killer while who now finds herself owned by SeaWorld, and with her valuable wild DNA likely to become part of SeaWorld’s captive breeding mill.

Anyhow, I started clicking on some of the videos of Morgan (they are from 2013) and for some reason this video perfectly captured for me the banality and tedium of a once wild life that is now experienced in a confined pool, and devoted to entertaining holiday crowds. Teaching Morgan how to wave her tail just seems so pathetic and lame. And her energy level and affect seems to indicate she feels the same way. Good times.

Morgan’s Fate At Loro Parque

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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.

Morgan’s Unusual Training At Loro Parque

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?

Another Take On Morgan The PR Star

A few weeks back, I posted a video of Morgan that was created by Loro Parque, along with some quick analysis.

Here’s the video again:

One element of the video that caught people’s attention was the apparent use of a whistle to bridge Morgan, which bears on the question of Morgan’s alleged deafness.

Bridgette Pirtle, a former trainer at SeaWorld Texas, got in touch with her view of the video, and graciously allowed me to share it here:

[UPDATED] A few observations…  LoroParque chose some interesting footage to use to show how “well” Morgan is doing. Particularly towards the end, that video appears to give stronger evidence for how she is not acclimating well. The white water looks like displacement not play. Those wide eyes in the closing frames are consistent with behaviors seen in whales anticipating more acts of dominance directed towards her, not of one settling into the hierarchy. Her eyes are of a whale tight and uncomfortable in her social environment.  I understand Morgan has a unique history along with some physical disabilities that further distance her from a “regular” orca, but those behaviors are far from that of the ” happy-go-lucky” captive norm.  That’s a little more like throwing a Mizzou fan in the middle of KU country. That Tiger is blending in anonymously, hoping to make it through without any altercation.  All the while, that Tiger is always watching his tail.  The behaviors observed in this video are more consistent with those of learned helplessness rather than proof of her successful acclimation within the social environment of LoroParque.

In regards to earlier comments made suggesting a possibility of the trainers continuing to use auditory stimuli amidst claims of Morgan’s loss of hearing, I feel that this isn’t sufficient evidence to support any speculations of the conflicting claims of poor hearing yet continuing to use the bridge whistle.  The session with Jose and Morgan at the slideout isn’t a good indicator of the possibility of a whistle being used as a bridge.  Audio is edited and a trainer placing a bridge in his or her mouth doesn’t always mean guarenteed bridge.  I was always “chewing on my whistle.”  In fact, there is a video on YouTube with me and Halyn doing a hand target learn session for campers where I also go into explaining my habit to the group.  I feel the more noteworthy points to take home from this video are that actions viewed are not quite lining up with the words being heard. Although the audio is edited over, I can tell you from the years I worked with him, Jose definitely was just as bad as me at “chewing on the whistle.” Most likely that would get chopped up to a trainer’s superstitious bad habit. There had been a video on YouTube with Rafa using his bridge while working Morgan that would better prove they don’t even really believe their own spin on Morgan’s deafness. It actually may have been one of the first installments of LP’s promo porn regarding Morgan. 🙂

Regardless of whether or not there’s a presence of auditory cues or that there is any substance to Morgan’s situation being compared to that of the whale euthanized by a shotgun blast, I feel the footage incorporated into this LoroParque PSA isn’t necessarily in line with the idealistic image they hope to achieve.  Killer whale social structures are extremely dynamic and complex.  Morgan’s unique variables contribute even more variables and complexities into this already delicate balance.  I would think even an untrained eye would be able to identify the social happenings observed here as being anything but an all-in-all acceptance within her new pod.

This is like Kremlinology, from the bad old days. But it’s nice to have some real experts providing the analysis.