Orca Morgan’s Hearing

One of the contentious underlying debates regarding Morgan and whether she should be released to a sea pen, or the wild, rather than spend a life at Loro Parque, is whether she is deaf, or has impaired hearing.

Obviously, impaired hearing would be an issue for an orca in the wild, and so this question is critical to whether Morgan would be a good candidate for release. Loro  Parque has repeatedly said she has hearing issues, and now they have released two videos, one discussing auditory tests, and the other the visual bridge they have developed for Morgan’s training.

UPDATE: And here is the audiogram being administered…

Here’s the translation of what the Loro Parque blog is saying about the tests:

International scientists confirm that the orca Morgan, rescued in Holland in 2010 and moved to the park in 2011 at the request of a Dutch judge, suffers a hearing loss that could be very severe and even absolute. This is the conclusion reached by the experts having made multiple hearing tests that took place last week at the facilities of Orca Ocean.

The research team, composed of experts from the Netherlands Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem study ( IMARES ), the National Endowment for marine mammals and also U.S. Office of Naval Research for the U.S. Navy (U.S. Navy ), studied the hearing of several copies of orca we have in the park. As a result found that they all could record brain responses to sound stimuli, except Morgan.This study confirms the suspicions of our team of trainers and veterinarians, who had warned that the animal did not seem to respond to sound signals.

This type of test, which consists in detecting brain waves in response to the issuance of a sound, is routinely used to determine the hearing of dolphins and small cetaceans. However, its application to the study of orcas sound pioneered the world, since there is only one precedent duplicate fourteen years ago.

With the confirmation of this deaf coaches continue to make visual adaptations of the system they use to communicate with Morgan. With the advice of specialists in animal behavior from the Free University of Berlin, will develop new lines of work that will allow any inconvenience Morgan further.

I hope that the report that is generated from this effort is released publicly.

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.

Morgan’s Story

The Free Morgan Foundation, in advance of a new, Nov. 1, court hearing, has released a passionate PSA calling for Morgan’s release back into the wild.

Morgan’s story is a case study in how the cover of “rehabilitation” is sometimes used as a way to bring wild marine mammals into captivity, which is always looking to diversify the gene pool. I doubt Loro Parque or any other marine park would have been so eager to bring Morgan into their collection if the Judge that authorized that decision had said that she was not to be used for breeding.

Orca Morgan’s Apprenticeship Begins

Well, actually it began almost from her first days at Harderwijk. But speaking of the relationship between humans and intelligent, social animals, here are some clips which show Morgan learning her new life as a performing orca at Loro Parque.

UPDATE: And here’s one more, from Jan. 18

Morgan’s Life At Loro Parque

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.

Morgan Meets Skyla

My personal opinion was that a chance to return to life in the wild (with all its uncertainties) was very much the right ethical choice over a life as an entertainer and breeder at Loro Parque.

But I also think that this (so far):

Is better than this:

Orca Morgan’s Transport To Loro Parque

There is something quite extraordinary about moving orcas from one place to another. Part of it is the sophistication of the planning and the technology that has evolved to make this commonplace. Part of it is the awareness that the orca is a very intelligent and aware animal, which makes me wonder just what, exactly, an orca being transported must be thinking.

Here is what Morgan’s trip from Dolfinarium Harderwijk to Loro Parque involved on the Harderwijk side:

And here are some pictures of her arrival at the other end, where it appears she will become part of SeaWorld’s orca “collection” (full set here).


Now we wait and see how the integration into Loro Parque’s fractious group goes.

Blood In The Water (Spanish Version)

Loro Parque is again in the news, thanks to the fact that a Dutch judge has decided that the orca Morgan will be sent there rather than be returned to the wild.

So it is a good time to publish a Spanish translation of my article, “Blood In The Water,” which goes into great detail on the lives of the killer whales at Loro Parque and the tragic December 2009 death of trainer Alexis Martinez.

Many thanks to Sebi McLean, a diver who worked at Loro Parque for a time, for taking the trouble to to do the translation.