A recent video showing an orca beaching itself on a concrete platform at a marine park in Tenerife has been interpreted by many as a suicide attempt, leading to criticism of the animal’s treatment and living conditions. However, according to former SeaWorld trainer Jeffrey Ventre – who went on to feature in the documentary film Blackfish, which exposed SeaWorld’s awful practices – the whale was probably engaging in “escape behavior” in order to avoid being attacked by other whales.
Talking to Sky News, Ventre explains that the female orca, called Morgan, had been “inserted into [a] social group with five other whales that she doesn’t get along with,” leading to “a lot of social strife,” as her tank-mates regularly became aggressive toward her.
Having seen the video – which was originally posted on the Dolphin Project – Ventre says “it looks like she jumped up onto that stage area as a way to get away from the other whales,” probably in order to “prevent from getting beat up further.”
According to both Ventre and the Free Morgan Foundation, Morgan was originally removed from her native pod by Dutch theme park Dolfinarium Harderwijk, under a “rescue, rehabilitation and release” permit. However, before the orca was released, she was acquired by SeaWorld, which later transferred her to the Loro Parque in Tenerife when European laws prevented her from being taken to the US.
Her insertion into a captive pod that does not welcome her has been cited as the reason for a number of her unusual behaviors. For instance, she has supposedly been seen headbutting a metal door on the side of her tank, while also chewing the concrete ledges that surround her enclosure, resulting in extensive damage to her teeth.
Based on these observations, Ventre says that “everything we’re seeing from Morgan shows us an unhappy whale.”
In response to the recent outcry following the video’s release, Loro Parque issued a statement on its blog claiming that jumping to conclusions about Morgan’s wellbeing based on the short clip is “absolutely illogical and absurd.”
For instance, while many have pointed out that deliberate beaching is not a natural orca behavior, Loro Parque claims that there is actually a pod of killer whales in Argentina that has been observed voluntarily stranding themselves on the shore in order to hunt sea lion cubs. However, with no sea lion cubs to hunt at the theme park, it seems unlikely that Morgan was beaching herself for this reason.
Still, the park maintains that its orcas are trained to “leave the water on their accord,” in order to allow vets to conduct medical examinations or to present themselves to the public.