Development of a new communication system for a deaf orca Morgan based on gestures and light

June 2, 2016

Statement issued by the company (Announcement)

“The trainers of Morgan, an orca with a serious hearing damage that was rescued in 2010 on the coast of the Netherlands and that was transferred to Loro Parque in 2011, have developed a communication system, based on gestures and lights, as part of a rewarding program.

A trainer and supervisor of the orcas in the zoological park, Rafael Sánchez, explained in an interview with the Agency EFE how, shortly upon the arrival of the orca that was transferred at a request of the Dutch Supreme Court, the trainers realized that Morgan did not react on the audio signals of the whistles from the trainers.

Up until now, the scientists have conducted several hearing tests that have proved that Morgan suffers a severe loss damage or is possibly completely deaf. Now, this fact has been confirmed by a group of U.S. researchers who, under the leadership of an Australian scientist from the University of Curtin, have published their scientific study in the prestigious journal Aquatic Mammals.

To enable interaction with the orca, the trainers have installed the white light bulbs in the interior and exterior part of the pool, and when the light comes on, it indicates to Morgan that she did her task well, explained Rafael Sánchez.

The other five orcas now understand this new communication system created for Morgan, too, and, quite recently, all of them have undergone the hearing tests.

To perform these tests, a method was used that measures brain waves that are created as part of a response to an audio signal. This system is commonly used for cetaceans, highlighted Dr. Javier Almunia, Deputy Director of Loro Parque Fundación and fellow researcher in this study.

The hearing tests showed that Morgan is the only orca in the group that did not show any brain reaction, continued Javier Almunia, who, at the same time, cannot fully ascertain that Morgan is completely deaf. This is because a thick layer of fat that orcas have, may impede the precise reading of the brain waves via the electrodes applied to an orca’s head.

This hearing test is identical to the method used to test the hearing abilities of humans, which is based on measuring brain waves as a reaction to sounds, commented Dr. Javier Almunia.

The Deputy Director of Loro Parque Fundación guarantees that the the results of the audiogram of Morgan have been known for a while and that the work has been conducted for some time to ensure the development of a communication system for Morgan, for her to be able to integrate with the group. The most important part right now is to continue to review this study and obtain confirmations of these results by the independent scientists.

Morgan, who is estimated to be between eight to ten years old, weighs currently more than 2.200 kilograms, measures around 5 metres and consumes more than 40 kilograms fish per day. This amount of food is proportionally divided in nine meals during which the trainers take as an opportunity for conducting voluntary health checks and obtaining samples of blood, urine and even faeces by introducing a flexible tube through the rectum; health controls for which the orcas have been trained for.

The Deputy Director of Loro Parque Fundación recalled that Morgan was rescued on the 23rd of June in 2010 on the coast of Wadden Sea, on the Dutch island Schiermonnikoog, and was encountered in a “very poor condition with symptoms of dehydration and seriously malnourished”. The orca only weighed 450 kilograms and did not show signs of resistance against her rescue. People who were involved in this rescue mission commented afterwards that they were not certain that the animal would survives as long as the first night upon the rescue, so critical was her condition.

The orca was taken to the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk where she was recovering for one year until she was moved to Loro Parque (Tenerife) in 2011 following the decision of the Dutch juridical authorities.”



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