Tag Archives: Loro Parque

Another update on the captive orca mother Morgan and her calf (1 October 2018)

orca calf, killer whales at Loro Parque
2010 photo of Kohana’s calf Adan being bottle fed. ( Ulrich).
Bottle-feeding has resumed for the calf, although the formula is augmented by the addition of Morgan’s milk. The videos below show how this was done when another of Loro Parque’s mother orcas, Kohana, rejected her calf.

From Loro Parque (10/1/2018)

It’s now just over a week since Morgan gave birth and the entire team of carers, veterinarians, and international experts who have been monitoring the situation are delighted with the calf’s progress. The primary focus continues to be ensuring that the calf is getting all the nourishment it needs and the team has been concerned that Morgan’s milk production has been lower than required.
While natural breastfeeding is always the preferred option, nothing is more important than the wellbeing of the animals in our care – so the veterinary team has stepped in to assist at times by temporarily bottle feeding the calf.
Despite continuous attempts to help Morgan feed naturally, her milk production remains low. As a result, the only option has been to move the calf over to regular bottle feeds. Thanks to Loro Parque’s world-leading facilities and the help of the world’s top experts, we are able add the small amount of milk that Morgan is producing daily to the bottled formula feed, which is provided in a special dedicated medical pool. Using Morgan’s milk helps enrich each meal the calf receives and provides the vital antibodies that aid the development of its immune system.
Despite the challenges in breastfeeding, the bond between mother and calf continues to grow and Morgan is demonstrating exemplary maternal instincts as she swims alongside her calf at all times they are together.
We know from the many messages of support we continue to receive that many of you are closely following this news, so we will keep providing updates as and when we have new information.


Orca mom and baby doing well after a rocky start – video shows that more (former) SeaWorld killer whales will be bred

Morgan with her new calf. Credit: Loro Parque

After a worrisome few days in which the whale calf needed supplemental feeding by park staff, the still unnamed baby orca is no longer being bottle-fed. The mother, Morgan, was rescued and rehabilitated in the Netherlands in 2010 before being transferred to Loro Parque, Spain where she was bred with SeaWorld orcas. (The Whale Sanctuary Project has a great summary of how Morgan wound up at a Spanish zoo.)

Ex -SeaWorld representative talks about breeding the whales in Loro Parque – these orcas belonged to SeaWorld until relatively recently. (Published on Mar 30, 2018):

Morgan and her calf update

(From Loro Parque).

Nothing matters more to us than the health and wellbeing of the animals in our care. As we updated earlier this week, a team of veterinarians and external consultants has been monitoring the progress of Morgan and her calf around the clock since birth.

The primary focus during these crucial first days has been ensuring the calf is getting all the nourishment it needs. While natural breastfeeding is always the preferred option, Morgan’s milk production has been below what is needed in these first few days. Therefore, the veterinary team has assisted by temporarily bottle feeding the calf while giving Morgan the chance to increase her milk supply.

We are glad to say that mother and calf have now resumed natural breastfeeding and the experts are pleased with the strong bond the pair have developed. With the help of our state-of-the-art facilities and assistance from world-leading experts, the team continues to closely observe the situation to ensure that Morgan and her baby establish a good, healthy and natural feeding routine. However, we are, of course, ready to step in to help if there is the slightest concern that the calf’s nutritional needs are not being met.

We wish to thank everyone who has been in contact with us in these past few days and have been touched by the many messages of support. We will keep you posted with all the latest information as things unfold.

New baby killer whale born to ‘deaf’ mother Morgan, who was once claimed by SeaWorld. UPDATE: Calf’s nursing not going well.

Morgan has been documented repeatedly bashing her head against the side of the gate opening mechanism. (Freemorgan.nl)

Loro Parque now has five orcas that belonged to SeaWorld, along with the Dutch orca Morgan – who SeaWorld bizarrely claimed to own before turning the lot over to this Spanish amusement park. Eventually it was determined that Morgan lost her hearing along the way (it is unknown if she was deaf when stranded or became deaf later) and after a spat with SeaWorld, Loro Parque bred her. (For background on this farce, please see Orca whale Morgan’s fate follows the golden rule: those who have the gold make the rules.)
At this writing, nothing more is known about the calf, or whether a “deaf”, young, mother whale will be able to communicate with the infant. Watch this space for updates.
UPDATE September 24th: From Loro Parque –

The first days in the life of a cetacean are critical and we have all been encouraged by Morgan’s strong maternal instincts and the way she is nurturing and taking care of her calf. Establishing breastfeeding is crucial in this early phase and our team of veterinarians and external consultants are closely monitoring both mother and calf to see that this happens.

Over the first 24 hours Morgan’s milk production has been lower than we would like, meaning it may be necessary to introduce bottle feeding to ensure that the calf is getting the nourishment it needs. We sincerely hope that nature can take its course and that Morgan can feed her calf independently.

However, we are watching the situation carefully and will assist with bottle feeding, if the experts consider that the life of the calf is at risk.

We wish to take this opportunity to say thank you for all the kind messages we have received from all over the world as we celebrate the birth of Morgan’s calf. We will continue to provide updates as they enjoy their first days together.

Background information:  In 2006, SeaWorld sent four orcas from the US on a breeding loan to Loro Parque (in the Spanish owned Canary Islands off the coast of Africa).
From SeaWorld’s Shell Game – Are They Trying to Get the Young Orca That Stranded in Dutch Waters? :

 In his excellent article, Blood in the Water, author Tim Zimmermann gives a thorough and engaging account of the events that led to the death of a trainer by one of SeaWorld’s whales, Keto, in Spain’s Loro Parque amusement park. In the telling of the story, Zimmermann shows that Loro Parque’s orcas were shipped from SeaWorld’s Texas and Florida amusement parks in 2006 to ‘help it [Loro Parque] start Orca Ocean’ and to ‘showcase these remarkable animals’.

Loro Parque’s announcement about the birth:

Loro Parque has good news to share: the orca Morgan that was rescued after being found near dead near the coast of the Wadden Sea in the Netherlands and that forms part of our group of orcas, gave birth to her first calf this morning, which finds itself in a perfect state of health. From the very first moment, Morgan demonstrated to be an exemplary mother attending to her newborn, which is swimming next to its mother in the installations of the ‘OrcaOcean’.
The orca Morgan was rescued at the coast of the Wadden Sea in 2010 and was attended by a team of experts of the Harderwijk Dolphinarium in an effort to help the lost animal, which showed such a severe malnutrition that the animal was only skin and bones. In this moment, Morgan only weighed 430 Kg and the keepers of the Dutch dolphinarium were not sure that the animal was going to survive the first night after its rescue. They, however, were hopeful that with a proper level of care, affection and attention of the care givers, as well as with the adequate nutrition, the animal could make a recovery.
Thanks to all these efforts of the team at Harderwijk, the animal began to recover its weight and strength, and as the Harderwijk installations were not prepared to keep orcas, the Dutch authorities initiated a formal commission to determine the future of the orca Morgan. A group of international and independent experts came to the conclusion that there were only two viable alternatives for the animal: euthanasia or to be kept at an installation of an aquarium that complied with the necessary conditions for this animal species.
At this moment, as Loro Parque had the most modern installations for orcas in existence, the Park was contacted to see if it would accept the animal. Despite all the challenges that this request represented, Loro Parque accepted the petition, thus, avoiding the only other alternative that was left for the animal: the euthanasia.
After a few months at our installations, the orca Morgan adapted to the new conditions and integrated perfectly into the existing group of orcas at Loro Parque. At the same time, it was discovered that the orca suffered a severe hearing deficiency, which was yet another argument to confirm that animal was incapable to survive on her own in nature.
Given this last circumstance, there were a number of questions as to what exactly a delivery would imply for the animal without a hearing capacity. Today, Loro Parque would like to share the great news: the delivery went in a completely normal manner and the first hours after the birth have been developing in accordance with the best expectations.
It is impossible to know the gender of the new calf yet, although the most important issue now is that both, the mother and the calf, find themselves in a perfect state of health. Loro Parque will be informing the public about the development of the situation, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all its visitors from many different parts of the world, the tour operators and all the collaborators in the scientific field for all the support to the Loro Parque mission: to protect and conserve animals and their natural habitats for future generations.

Morgan with her new calf. Credit: Loro Parque

SeaWorld’s killer whale filmed repeatedly bashing into gate

(Video via Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project)
This recent video is disturbing, and raises the question of what SeaWorld plans to do with their six orcas that are housed at an amusement park in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.
Four of the orcas were sent to the park (Loro Parque) on a breeding loan, the fifth was born there, and the sixth, a young female named Morgan, was rescued and kept in captivity despite international protest. Although not officially confirmed, it is believed to be Morgan in the video above.
SeaWorld is undergoing rapid and significant change, and deserves time to demonstrate their sincerity and commitment to their avowed promise to improve life for the captive whales. Yet if they really do have their priorities straight, unlike the previous leaders (Orca Morgan’s fate follows the golden rule – those who have the gold make the rules), they will take action for their whales at Loro Parque and not just the orcas on American soil.
The whales in Loro Parque might be out of sight, but they are not out of mind.
The Free Morgan Foundation spearheads an effort to grant Morgan freedom under European law and continues to monitor Morgan and the other whales at Loro Parque. Their reports are grim and underscore the need for SeaWorld to take the reins and do something about the conditions at that park:

(Executive Summary)
Morgan was to be held at Loro Parque as an interim measure whilst the legality of her continued captivity was debated. The main consideration stated as to why she was sent to this facility, despite data to show otherwise, was so she could socialise with other orca.
Since her transfer she has been brutally and continually attacked and is subjected to excessive sexual pressure from a male orca who she is often locked into the same tank with.
The author observed Morgan for 77 hours and 16 minutes, over eight days (spread over a 24 day period). During that time-fame, an unprecedented 91 aggression events were documented, all involving Morgan. A similar study, looking at aggression in captive orca (observing them for 1,872 hours, i.e., 78 days) recorded only eight aggressive episodes.
Morgan, was attacked, on average, more than once an hour. The other study recorded an aggressive episode only once every 234 hours.
Put another way, Morgan is over than 100 times more like likely to be attacked at Loro Parque than the orca in the other study. Since her arrival at Loro Parque, Morgan has been inflicted with more than 320 puncture and bite marks (all documented by photographs).
This does not include the damage she has self-inflicted from abnormal and repetitive behaviours such as banging her head on the concrete tanks.
Additionally, Morgan is wearing her teeth down from chewing on the concrete. Teeth wear in captive orca often leads to infections. These abnormal behaviours are a direct result of boredom from being held in a featureless environment in which she is provided little if any stimulation.
There is a clear lack of empathy for this animal from the trainers, who ignore her calls for attention and her cries for help and disregard aggressive attacks on her by the other animals, even when they are within meters of these events when they occur. (From Report on the Physical & Behavioural Status of Morgan, the Wild-Born Orca held in Captivity, at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain).

Morgan has been documented repeatedly bashing her head against the side of the gate opening mechanism.  (Freemorgan.nl)
Morgan has been documented repeatedly bashing her head against the side of the gate opening mechanism. (Freemorgan.nl)

Can SeaWorld Really Send Our Killer Whales to China? Will They?

“Ocean Kingdom is the first phase of transforming the last of the undeveloped Pearl River Delta islands into what Mr. Su describes as the “Orlando of China” which “will become the new benchmark for the theme park industry.”  The Chimelong Group.
The short answer is yes, they can send the orcas to a foreign country. It is a viable option, and there are no regulations to prevent it.
The recent shake-ups at SeaWorld show that this corporate business means business – they are replacing the CEO, restructuring the company’s Board of Directors, and in a Grinchy move they laid off over 300 employees in the middle of the holidays. They added some impressive independent consultants with marketing and business backgrounds to take the reins and reboot SeaWorld’s tired business model.
They are showing themselves to be competent, brilliant, and somewhat ruthless in their makeover – but what it means for the animals, and what anyone can do about it is a big question.

The whales can't speak, they are relying on you to see past the hype and recognize their plight.
The whales can’t speak, they are relying on you to see past the hype and recognize their plight.

Unfortunately for the iconic orcas, SeaWorld doesn’t have a lot of options.  They can continue as they have for the past 50 years and hope that they can drown out the animal rights community by launching a savvy advertising campaign (doomed to fail given the power of social networks), they can follow through on their present expansion plans to increase pool size (doomed to fail given given that it doesn’t address the fundamental needs of the whales), they can open their doors to scientists and researchers from around the world, while exploring alternatives such as sea pens (the best option, it will bring in money and restore public opinion, but expensive initially), or they can decide to keep a few orcas and sell/loan the rest overseas to China and other countries (quick, dirty, and cheap).
The former CEO will now serve on the board as adviser on conservation and on their plans for “international expansion”:

[The] current CEO and President, Jim Atchison, will become Vice Chairman of the Board.
In addition, Mr. Atchison will serve as a consultant to the Company with respect to international expansion and the Company’s conservation initiatives. The Company will also nominate Mr. Atchison to serve as the chairman of the board of the not-for-profit, independent SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. (See press release).

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, the "Orlando of China". (Leszoosdelemonde)
Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, the “Orlando of China”. (Leszoosdelemonde)

China’s new “Orlando Project” lends credence to the rumors that have been circulating that is helping China to develop theme parks along the lines of what no longer works in the US. According to Macao Magazine:

The Orlando project represents a major gamble for Chimelong, the private company based in Guangzhou, which is building the resort. Founded in 1989, the company has invested in environmental tourism, hotels and holiday resorts, with its major project a safari park, circus and tourist centre in Panyu, a southern district of Guangzhou.
Orlando, in central Florida, is the model for the Hengqin development. The city has turned sugar cane fields and citrus plantations into one of the most visited cities in the United States. This is because of Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World, which is 34 kilometres to the south. In addition, it hosts the second largest convention complex in the country.
Chimelong wants to follow the example of Orlando. It has hired major U.S. design firms  PGAV and WATG  for two major parts of the project, the Ocean World and the Ocean Hotel. Based in Honolulu, Hawaii, WATG has designed hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries across the world.

SeaWorld has already moved four orcas to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, where they produced two calves. SeaWorld, while claiming that they do not take orcas from the wild has also absorbed the wild caught orca Morgan into their stables there.
The Spanish trainer Alexis Martinez was killed at Loro Parque a few months before Dawn Brancheau was killed in SeaWorld Orlando, and now one of the Loro Parque trainers, Julien Forestier,  is head trainer for Chimelong, the “Orlando of China” project:

Julien Forestier:
Manager of Animal Training Guangzhou Chimelong Group Zhuhai Project April 2012 – Present (2 years 9 months)Hengqin Island, China Previously:
Senior Animal Trainer Loro Parque July 2010 – March 2012 (1 year 9 months)Tenerife, Canary Islands
Supervisor of Animal Training Dolfinarium February 2001 – June 2010 (9 years 5 months)Harderwijk, Netherlands
Marine Mammal Trainer Connyland February 2000 – November 2000 (10 months)Lipperswil, Switzerland

Also from Orlando, Florida and working for the Orlando in China project is Alan Stein, Executive Producer, Entertainment at Guangzhou Chimelong Group Zhuhai Project, previously at Busch Gardens Entertainment Corporation.

At least two orcas caught in Russia last year are headed for China. (Tumblr).
At least two orcas caught in Russia last year are headed for China. (Tumblr).

In a park that wants to be the biggest marine themed amusement facility in the world, the lack of orca superstars has left Chimelong missing the jewels in their crown. Because orcas are somewhat protected in the wild through international agreement it is hard to get them, although the Russians obtained permits to capture two (2) to be imported to China.

 Erich Hoyt, co-director of the Far East Russia Orca Project and research fellow with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, says his group discovered the orcas came from Nakhodka, near Vladivostok, and were captured as part of two operations targeting killer whales in August and October last year, in the Okhotsk Sea.On December 21, [2013] Hoyt says, his group learnt the two orcas had been transported to China via Vladivostok.
Sources told them the whales were bound for Ocean Kingdom, he adds. If that is the case, they are likely to become the first killer whales to go on show in the mainland of China.

But two orcas (there are now rumored to be three who may wind up there) is hardly enough for a country that hopes to have the most, the biggest, the most entertaining marine parks in the world, and with wild captures difficult to come by the orcas now “owned”  by SeaWorld (before 1994 the whales could not be owned by theme parks, but after lobbying Congress the amusement parks changed this) would be welcome to their pools.
SeaWorld, for their part, would finally be able to infuse the inbred population of killer whales with wild genes from the orcas caught by Russia.
They can also take their dog and pony show to foreign countries where the presence of animal rights hovers between none and very little. From Wikipedia:
images china

  • The 2010 documentary San Hua by Guo Ke is the first to depict China’s cat-meat industry. In one scene, Guo and fellow activists stop a transport truck and find “more than 300 cats crammed into cramped wooden cages, unable to move”—some missing tails and others “crushed into unconsciousness.” In another scene at Fa’s Cat Restaurant, Guo used a hidden camera to film cooks beating cats with a wooden stick, dumping them into a fur-removal machine, and then boiling them.
  • Pictures have also circulated featuring two dogs in boiling water in China. It’s claimed this is because some Chinese prefer the taste of adrenaline-soaked meat. In some areas, dogs are beaten to death in order to release blood into the meat.
  • Yin Yang fish involves deep-frying fish while it’s still alive. The practice has been condemned by animal-rights activists. Many chefs in Taiwan are no longer willing to prepare it, but it’s popular in mainland China.
  • Some chefs cook a carp’s body while keeping its head wrapped in a cloth so that it can keep breathing. In 2009, a video of Chinese diners prodding and eating alive a fried fish went viral on YouTube and provoked an outcry from PETA.
  • On streets in China, live scorpions are “scooped up alive and wriggling, skewered on a kebab, and deep-fried in oil.”
  •  China is the biggest fur-producing nation. Some fur animals are skinned alive, and others may be beaten to death with sticks.
  • Live-animal key rings. In Beijing, vendors sell fish, turtles, and amphibians as key rings and mobile-phone decorations. Animal-rights activists condemn the practice because the animals may run out of air and die quickly, and they may also pose hazards to human health. An Avaaz petition against these keychains had 980,000 signatures as of July 2014
  • According to Prof. Peter J. Li, a few Chinese zoos are improving their welfare practices, but many remain “outdated”, have poor conditions, use live feeding, and employ animals for performances. Safari parks may feed live sheep and poultry to lions as a spectacle for crowds.

SeaWorld also will not have to be bothered by pesky reporters and bloggers keeping an eye on them, since China has been rated the second highest nation for imprisoning reporters (Iran is first) – so verifiable claims of poor treatment of the animals will not be known.

 China’s use of anti-state charges and Iran’s revolving door policy in imprisoning reporters, bloggers, editors, and photographers earned the two countries the dubious distinction of being the world’s worst and second worst jailers of journalists, respectively. Together, China and Iran are holding a third of journalists jailed globally—despite speculation that new leaders who took the reins in each country in 2013 might implement liberal reforms.

Because the “Orlando in China” is located on the mainland, visas are required in order for foreigners to visit Chimelong.  That means China can keep out any individuals active in animal rights that they choose.
How can SeaWorld just move the orcas to China or other foreign countries?
Those same revisions that gave them ownership of the whales (previously the theme parks were only allowed to display the orcas in trust) gave them blanket permission to ship the orcas anywhere without a permit and just 15 days notice* as long as the destination meets the feeble standards provided by the Animal Welfare Act*, standards that were set in part by the amusement parks themselves.  (*The items marked with an asterisk are corrections from the original).
Here is the relevant part in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended:

B) A permit under this paragraph shall grant to the person to which it is issued the right, without obtaining any additional permit or authorization under this Act, to—
(i) take, import, purchase, offer to purchase, possess, or transport the marine mammal that is the subject of the permit; and
(ii) sell, export, or otherwise transfer possession of the marine mammal, or offer to sell, export, or otherwise transfer possession of the marine mammal—
(I) for the purpose of public display, to a person that meets the requirements of clauses (i), (ii), and (iii) of subparagraph (A);
(II) for the purpose of scientific research, to a person that meets the requirements of paragraph (3); or
(III) for the purpose of enhancing the survival or recovery of a species or stock, to a person that meets the requirements of paragraph (4).
(C) Any progeny of a marine mammal born in captivity before the date of the enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994 [April 30, 1994] and held in captivity for the purpose of public display shall be treated as though born after that date of enactment.

How likely is SeaWorld to chose this course of action? It is impossible to say at this point, but they will do what it takes to stop the financial hemorrhaging before a hostile takeover by another company can happen. They may dump the brand, dump the animals, lick their wounds and become something else entirely, if that is the only course that they see.
It is up to you to let them know that you would again love SeaWorld and what it stands for if they re-invent themselves as a company that wants to preserve the oceans and marine life for future generations. Contact them at SeaWorld Cares.
What else you can do:
Contact your Congress representatives and ask them to put stricter controls on the captive industry.
Sign petitions that come your way, it just takes a few seconds.
*Review MMPA – Introduce/Enforce Ban on Dolphin/Whale Exportation
Free Morgan
End the Captive Breeding Program
Release Tilikum
Force SeaWorld to Pay for Decimating the Southern Resident Orca Population

Costumed Zoo Employee Taken Down by Veterinarian with a Tranquilizer Dart – the Vet Mistook Him for a Real Gorilla

Loro Parque, an amusement park located on a Spanish island off the coast of Africa where SeaWorld warehouses their surplus orcas seems like it must be a dangerous place to work. Previously, one of their trainers was killed by one of SeaWorld’s orcas there, and now it seems that their vet can’t distinguish between a wild gorilla and one of their own employees dressed up in a gorilla suit.
During a practice drill, the employee donned the costume and ran around the grounds to add realism to the event, but apparently the vet didn’t know it was a drill and opened fire with his tranquilizer gun on the hapless employee – who apparently had an allergic reaction to the dose, designed to stop a 400 pound gorilla in its tracks.

This is a costume
This is a costume

Google translation of the Spanish article:~
Fires a narcotic dart to a caregiver mistaken for a gorilla
The vet, who was two months working , opened fire on the victim suffered an allergic reaction l and given an antidote
antonio smith 06.03.2014 | 00:26
An operator of Loro Parque , 35, was shot of a narcotic being mistaken for a gorilla dart. Because of the shooting done by the vet , had to be taken to the Hospital Universitario de Canarias in serious condition , according to police and 112 pointed to this media sources .
The incident took place around 11:40 pm yesterday . About that time , officers received a tip where they were told that a gorilla had escaped from the theme park resort town .
However, there was no such escape because this was all a sham . This apparently was that an ape escaped the park and had to hunt him down before he could reach someone or come out of the facility. While this was happening , Loro Parque staff started a search operation . In this type of exercise is mandatory the presence of a police presence and yesterday it was the turn to the local police in Puerto de la Cruz .
The sources said that , apparently , the operator was a gorilla suit to give greater accuracy to drill and was confused by the veterinarian, who opened fire with a narcotic dart that struck the victim in the leg that fell slumped to the ground just at the time he was in the cage of apes. However, where the victim was located he was in his underwear . In place a firm control of occupational hazards Los Realejos, whose function was to assess the protocol for such incidents and whose workers was witnessed .

This is a real gorilla.
This is a real gorilla.

The triggered dose was as strong as a gorilla to sedate more than 200 kilos of weight , prompting the operator quedase without knowledge quickly. It should be noted that the employee had an allergic reaction , so an allocation from the Emergency Department Canario (SUC ) evacuated the patient to the Hospital Universitario de Canarias ( HUC ) after be given an antidote and be stabilized by a doctor.
The sources added that the place showed up an endowment from the National Police who took charge of the proceedings, while putting the facts to the attention of the Office of Claims Labor , since the incident was considered a accident. According to sources, in principle, the possibility of alleged negligence by the operator in charge of handling the gun deck. This gun is used for dangerous driving cattle and capture of live wild animals or veterinary use when required sedation or immobilization of animals at a distance.
The National Police took the air gun , the sedative and antidote employee . Practiced everything he has given to the magistrate guard Puerto de la Cruz.

Because the employee had an adverse reaction and his current condition is not known at the moment, this event is still serious.
But you can’t help but wonder how the other costumed staff is feeling about now…but I wouldn’t stand too close.

I think wearing an animal costume at Loro Parque might be a bad idea.
I think wearing an animal costume at Loro Parque might be a bad idea.

Is that a trainer pictured here with the wild-caught orca Morgan?  Or maybe it looks like an escaped seal?
Is that a trainer pictured here with the wild-caught and controversial orca Morgan? Or maybe the trainer will be mistaken for an escaped seal?

Do Female Killer Whales Have a Worse Life in Captivity than Males?

Photo courtesy of Bettina Klootwijk.
Photo courtesy of Bettina Klootwijk.

While captive orcas all lead miserable lives, the breeding policies and forced separations may make life harder for the females.  The males are sub-dominant in the studied wild orca cultures, and among the Southern Resident orcas, they remain with their mothers their entire lives, so a case could be made that psychologically the forced separations as calves might be more difficult for them than for the females who eventually form their own family units in the wild (but they too remain in the same pod as their own mothers). But the breeding program hurts the females both as calves and as adults.
The females have to endure having their calves taken away, and at Seaworld females have been forced to mature early and to have calves through artificial insemination while they are the equivalent of a six- eight year old human child – orcas mature much the way we do, entering puberty about 10 – 13 years old on average and very rarely producing calves that young in the wild. The calves are taken away from the mothers as young as two years old.
The death of the 10 month old orca Vicky yesterday in Loro Parque  underscores another problem for captive born female orcas – not being prepared to nurture their calves. Vicky had been rejected by her mother who in turn had been separated from her own mother at too young an age to learn how to care for a calf. Had Vicky survived, she likely would have been brought into maturity by manipulating her hormones, then borne a calf that she doubtlessly would have rejected.
Last week Fins and Fluke created a petition to call for the end of captive breeding, and now with Vicky’s death the number of surviving calves has dropped to just 17.

 This is a call to action to end the captive breeding programs at SeaWorld Parks. SeaWorld continues to boast about their “successful breeding program” when in all actuality that is far from the truth. There have been thirty-seven known pregnancies at SeaWorld parks since the first survived captive birth in 1985. Only eighteen of these calves still alive today, barely half. The captive breeding program at SeaWorld has resulted in 6 stillbirths, two miscarriages, and five maternal deaths during childbirth. One remaining calf is a result of inbreeding.

SeaWorld: End Captive Orca Breeding Program

Prior the first successful live birth in 1985, captive orcas produced 10 calves, and all 10 were still born or died within 2 months (Wikipedia).
Rivalry and dominance squabbles among females can be deadly, and fourteen percent of the mother whales at Seaworld have died giving birth. One gave birth during a show – the calf survived,  but when just a year old witnessed her mother bleed to death from a broken jaw, the result of an altercation with another female…again, during a show.  The calf, Orkid, was raised by humans and nurtured by other female orcas (one of whom was Corky who had been bred 7 times and lost 7 calves by time she was just 21 years old and stopped ovulating.) In 2002 Orkid and another young whale teamed up and dragged a trainer into the water where they  “roughed her up severely, fracturing her arm and leaving her hand a bloody mess”, and she continues to be a very aggressive whale. (See more – Death at Seaworld)
Any woman who has given birth knows how challenging the process can be, and it is unimaginable that Seaworld has its pregnant whales perform so close to term (Orkid came a month earlier than the average gestation of 17 months), and I can’t think of another industry where near-term animals are forced to perform in the late stages of pregnancy.  Visualize a pregnant race horse – the idea is ludicrous.
Recognizing that inbreeding is a huge problem Seaworld has gotten its hooks into the  wild Norweigian killer whale, Morgan, hoping to infuse their gene lines with viable stock.  Morgan has a chance to escape the dismal fate of  female killer whales at Seaworld.  You can help in the court battle to return her to her home waters in Norway: Free Morgan Foundation.

Whale Lover on Your List? A Gift Guaranteed to Make Them Smile, and it Doesn’t Have to Cost You Anything

For the whale lover who has enough t-shirts, mugs, trinkets, and stuffed dolphins, a gift that shows you care about their passion may be one of the most memorable presents they will receive.  Why?  Because although you may not share the whale enthusiast’s interest, they will deeply appreciate knowing that you took the time to make a difference in a cause they care about.
In this case, you can sign a petition, and/or visit the websites dedicated to orca research in general, or help one young whale specifically – and see a myriad of ways to pledge your time, donate if you wish, or print out a pledge to give to your gift recipient.  (The petition  just  encourages a Dutch court to release a captive whale who has not adapted to captivity, and you can keep your support anonymous. The judges are due to announce their decision on December 13, 2012).  You can find out more about the whale, Morgan, here, and sign the petition here.

Morgan has been documented repeatedly bashing her head against the side of the gate opening mechanism…[which] results in self-inflicted damage to her rostrum (end of snout) & chin. From continually banging her head on the concrete, she has hypertrophic tissue (fibrous tissue that replaces normal tissue destroyed by injury).

Morgan has been documented repeatedly injuring herself. (Freemorgan.nl)

This whale can be successfully returned to the wild, there already exists a place to rehabilitate her near where her wild family lives:
Proposed site for Morgan's rehabilitation and release.

Her family has been located. “Heike Vester and Filipa Samarra identified Group P by comparing Morgan’s distinctive calls with the recent call type catalogue of wild Norwegian killer whales developed by Heike Vester, and came to the conclusion that Morgan is likely to have originated from either from group P or a group closely related to group P. You can download the full report.
Morgan's wild family (Freemorgan.nl)

Below are two sample pledges you can print out, there are other creative options to be found as well, at the Free Morgan Foundation website. More about Dr. Visser and her research can be found at the Orca Research Trust.


Cousteau and Dr. Visser Explain Why the Orca Morgan Needs to be Freed; Time is Crucial, Dutch Court Hears the Case Tomorrow (11/1/12)

Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Ingrid Visser in conversation with WILD TIME’s Thomas Janak bring clarity and insight into the fundamental importance of returning this young killer whale to the wild. They point out that times have changed along with our understanding of these intelligent whales, and Cousteau makes the case that we have more to learn from them in the wild than we can in captivity. Orca biologist Dr. Visser explains the suffering that Morgan endures in captivity, and makes suggestions for what people can do to help. For more information please go to FreeMorgan.org.

Proposed site for Morgan's rehabilitation and release.

Rake marks on Morgan from other whales (Courtesy of End Killer Whale Captivity)

SeaWorld’s New Orca Calf – a New Low in Their Inbreeding Program

Loro Parque, Spain has announced the birth of a new orca calf…the announcement coming two weeks or so after the calf was actually born. For the second time in two years the mother orca, 10 year old Kohana (who belongs to SeaWorld) gave birth and then proceeded to ignore the baby.  Her first calf, two year old Adan, was bottle reared, and according to sources has had trouble being accepted by the other whales, a fate that is likely to be repeated with the new calf. Both calves are highly inbred (for an excellent explanation of the calf’s lineage, please read this article by Elizabeth Batt).
This video shows the birth and bottle feeding of the new calf, who has been  named “Vicky” ( Nacimiento de Vicky – Loro Parque means ‘Birth of Vicky’ – Loro Parque).

Contrast the life of “Vicky” with that of the new Southern Resident orca calf, J-49. Both calves were recently born to young mothers, but there can be no comparison in terms of the quality of life enjoyed by these two baby whales.  Given SeaWorld’s breeding program, it is likely that ‘Vicky’ will be bred and have her first calf at 8 years old like her mother, and also like her mother, Vicky will most likely reject her own offspring since she will not have learned how to parent.
J-49, on the other hand, is surrounded by a stable and successful family unit.

Little J-49, wild and free with her family. (Center for Whale Research).

A bit of History about the mother: The first catalog quality photograph we have of J37 as a baby was in August 2001, at which time she appeared to be five or six months old. Then, the first photograph we have of J37 with a baby was today, August 6, 2012, so we can assume that the new mother is 11 ½ years old – the youngest confirmed mother that we are aware of in the Southern Resident Community. With a gestation of approximately 17 months she must have been impregnated during or around January 2011 when she was about 10 years old! We had four encounters with J pod in January 2011 and all were with both J and K pods combined and L87. Hence, the father must have been among them at that time. Maybe this is why L87 is hanging around J pod so much!
A little bit about the family: The grandmother of the new calf, J14, is thirty eight years old and is the very productive mother of three living offspring and three that have not made it to the present time. Her first calf, J23 born in 1987, was a male that survived for four years. Her second calf, J30 born in 1995, was a male that survived until December 2011, but went curiously missing all of this year and is presumed dead. J37 is J14’s third calf born in 2001, and J40 (a female) is her fourth calf born in 2004. J14 had a neonate calf (J43) that was seen on one day, 24 November 2007, but it did not survive. Most recently, in March 2009, J14 had another calf, J45 a male, that survives to the present. The new calf of J37 will be designated J49, and it is born into a very productive matriline so we are hoping it fares well. With this birth, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population (SRKW in government jargon) now numbers 86, though that number could change at any time with births and deaths.