Theme Parks

Video: SeaWorld-owned orca whale 'beaches' herself after Loro Parque show

Morgan, a SeaWorld-owned orca, is seen on a concrete slab at Loro Parque, a theme park in Tenerife, Spain.

Morgan, a SeaWorld-owned orca, is seen on a concrete slab at Loro Parque, a theme park in Tenerife, Spain.  (Courtesy Dolphin Project)

Video of a captive killer whale beaching herself for more than 10 minutes on a concrete slab has reignited animal activists in the fight to free marine mammals used as entertainment. But the theme park that keeps the mammal said it's "totally natural behavior."

The video, posted by Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project (a non-profit dedicated to the welfare and protection of dolphins that, when possible, aims to free captive sea mammals) last week, shows a SeaWorld-owned orca named Morgan lying motionless on the concrete at the side of her tank after performing in one of three daily shows at Loro Parque, a zoo and waterpark located in Tenarife, Spain. The incident occurred on May 16 and some of the tourists who witnessed the beaching say footage indicates the orca was trying desperately to kill herself.

Morgan on concrete slide-out, Loro Parque, 05/16 from Dolphin Project on Vimeo.

Some visitors to the park were said to have taken selfies with the killer whale behind them while she lay on the concrete.

“Looks to me as if she's trying to take her own life, I don't blame her :(,” a commenter wrote under the video.  

“Release the orcas!!! Their place is in the ocean!!! Shame on the humans who exploit them,” another wrote in French.

Orcas occasionally beach themselves for short periods while hunting, but their internal organs and muscles can be crushed by their weight if they stay on land for too long, according to zoologist David Lusseau of the University of Aberdeen. 

“While we cannot explain the reason for her behavior, the juxtaposition of a previously-wild orca against the stark backdrop of the park’s performance area is unsettling, to say the least,” The Dolphin Project said in a statement.

"Sadly, Morgan was still out of the water by the time the videographers had to leave."

On Saturday, Loro Parque released a statement regarding Morgan’s condition.

“It is absolutely illogical and absurd to assume that the length and the quality of such video would be sufficient to make a conclusion and declaration of such nature,” says the statement regarding the video. “A voluntary stranding is a natural behavior of orcas living in the wild… The orcas at Loro Parque are trained to leave the water on their own accord. This behavior is used for manifold purposes, for example, for presenting the animals to the public, for conducting corporal check-ups, for inspecting their blowholes, as well as for testing hearing abilities of the orcas.”

Loro Parque says that when the animals are given free time, they often like to jump out of the water and it is a “totally natural behavior.”

“To speculate that this represents a sign of stress demonstrates utter ignorance about the natural behavior of this species.”

Unlike the five other orcas at Loro Parque, Morgan was born in the wild. Severely emaciated, she was captured in Dutch waters under a “rescue, rehabilitation and release” permit in 2010 and sent to Loro Parque in 2011. Two months ago, Morgan was recorded banging her head repeatedly into a metal grate in the Loro Parque medical pool. In a statement following that incident, the park said, “The video published by the Dolphin Project on its website is a new attempt at manipulation through exaggeration and dramatization of a completely normal situation in which there is no problem for the animals.”

But PETA says Morgan's behavior signals a much larger issue. 

"Morgan was captured from the sea six years ago and has been fighting hard against the trials of her captivity ever since. Her behavior shows that she is frantic to get back to the ocean home that she remembers and misses," PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law Jared Goodman told via email.

"At Loro Parque, where she is "on loan" from SeaWorld, she is treated as a possession and used for profit. She has been attacked by incompatible orcas dozens of times a day, has smashed her head into a gate over and over again, and has now beached herself in absolute desperation. SeaWorld needs to release this suffering orca and the others it holds captive to a seaside sanctuary now."

SeaWorld, which does not have an official affiliation with Loro Parque but lent Morgan to the Spanish facility in 2011, told via email that the animal’s actions constitute normal whale behavior and she will continue to “be part of the park presentations as normal.” 

“Loro Parque is a respected zoological institution, and our two organizations manage the care of these killer whales cooperatively. We consult regularly with them on veterinary care, husbandry and training, and have enjoyed a long association with them on conservation programs, animal rescue and scientific research. Morgan receives regular health and wellness exams from a team of veterinarians and animal care specialists, and is currently healthy and thriving. In fact, she continues to grow and gain weight at a healthy rate since her rescue in 2010 when she was found alone and emaciated. There are no concerns with Morgan sliding out as shown in the video as the whales do this with some regularity.”

But the Free Morgan Foundation says Morgan lives in “horrific conditions” at the waterpark and provides a timeline on its website that it claims illustrates her suffering “and the indignity that she is exposed on a regular basis, having to perform tricks for food.”