Root Canal: SeaWorld Gets Drilled In New Killer Whale Teeth Report

August 17, 2016

SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby has been all smiles since he and Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States announced that their organizations had reached an agreement to end the captive breeding of killer whales at SeaWorld’s parks in California, Texas and Florida along with the six killer whales under SeaWorld’s care at Loro Parque in Spain. But when it comes to the killer whales themselves, they’re not smiling because there is something missing – their teeth.

Dentition as a Welfare Indicator

Do you  remember going to the dentist as a child for a checkup? Do you remember how happy you were if you didn’t have any cavities? Do you remember the sound of the dentist’s drill when you did?

A new report from the Free Morgan Foundation (FMF) examines the condition of killer whale teeth as a measure of their welfare in captivity. The report, Ongoing concerns regarding the SeaWorld orca held at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain provides extensive photographic documentation that chronicles the dentition of the six killer whales in SeaWorld’s care at Loro Parque. Based on the report, it appears that cavities are the least of their problems.

The authors of the report, Dr. Ingrid Visser and Rosina Lisker, visited Loro Parque in April of this year where they observed and photographed the killer whales over a period of three days. During their visit, Visser & Lisker received personal assurances by Dr. Javier Almunia of the Loro Parque Fundación and two Loro Parque veterinarians, that there were no health problems with the killer whales.

When specifically asked about the wild-born female Morgan, the authors were told she had no broken teeth:

All three employees denied that Morgan had any broken teeth. Subsequent to the authors’ visit, on 28 April 2016, Loro Parque posted on their official website blog the following text; “Dr. Visser asked about Morgan’s broken teeth, and the veterinarian staff confirmed that Morgan does not have broken teeth just abrasion in [sic] some of them.” [emphasis added].” (Visser & Lisker at p. 16.) 

The photographic evidence collected by Visser & Lisker, however, adds to the growing stack of documentation regarding welfare issues facing the killer whales held in that facility.

Morgan is of particular concern to Visser & Lisker because during her time in captivity beginning at Dolfinarium Harderwijk in 23 June 2010 and then at Loro Parque since 29 November 2011, she has suffered significant, progressive dental distress that would not have occurred had she been returned back to the ocean following her rehabilitation:

According to the authors, in 3 years, 10 months, 10 days, Morgan went from 0% severe damage of her right mandibular teeth to 75%. The report goes on to calculate that between 41.66% and 75% of the mandibular (lower jaw) teeth were moderately or severely damaged among the six killer whales observed at Loro Parque.

Drilling and Flushing – Superior Dental Care?

Drilling and daily flushing of killer whale teeth is portrayed as ‘superior dental care’ by Seaworld. But is it really? I asked former SeaWorld trainer John Jett Ph.D. to describe the daily dental care of killer whales from a trainer’s perspective:

We used a variable-speed drill, with a stainless drill bit that was disinfected with betadine prior to the drilling procedure. It was a Dremel brand drill like you can buy at a hardware store. The holes were flushed using a Waterpik filled with betadine. We would receive cases of 1,000mL bags of betadine from the animal care department, which we would cut with scissors and pour into the Waterpik basin in preparation for tooth flushes.” (John Jett Ph.D. July 2016)

Another former SeaWorld trainer, Jeffrey Ventre MD, gives further detail about pulpotomies, tooth flushing and the health impacts of dentition of killer whales in captivity in this video:

Five Freedoms

The welfare issues at Loro Parque extend far beyond the killer whales teeth. Visser & Lisker also asses the welfare of the killer whales through an analysis and discussion of the physical conditions at Loro Parque with respect to the ‘Five Freedoms’ of animal welfare:


These standards are internationally recognized as providing the absolute minimal requirement for an animal’s physical and mental well-being.

In the report, Visser & Lisker document violations of four of the ‘five freedoms’ of the killer whale’s welfare at Loro Parque. Their report also meticulously documents 23 violations of animal welfare standards affecting the killer whales at Loro Parque using the C-Well® welfare standards. (Visser & Lisker at p. 33.)

SeaWorld and the Humane Society

Wayne Pacelle is the CEO of HSUS, a position he has held since 2004.
Six years after he began working in that position, in November 2010, his organization wrote a letter to the US Government highlighting the animal welfare violations at Loro Parque. HSUS requested that the US Government act according to the letter of comity provision (the legal principle that nations will mutually recognize and respect each other’s laws) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). They requested to have the SeaWorld killer whales seized and repatriated back to the United States:

Therefore, it is imperative that NMFS and APHIS undertake an immediate investigation and make an official finding as to Loro Parque’s non-compliance so that NMFS can take action to seize the orcas or work with SeaWorld to arrange for their repatriation to the United States.” (HSUS letter 11 November 2010.)

The revelations in the Visser & Lisker (2016) report are stark and startling and reaffirm the validity of the HSUS welfare concerns raised in November 2010 about SeaWorld’s killer whales at Loro Parque.

This new report by the FMF has also been submitted to representatives of the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Protected Resources
as a not so subtle reminder that it cannot wash its hands of responsibility for monitoring the conditions of the killer whales at Loro Parque through feigned ignorance and denial of readily verifiable facts and observable conditions.

The fact that SeaWorld keeps six of its claimed twenty-nine killer whales at an off-shore facility is a detail that is often overlooked, yet these individuals represent approximately 20 percent of SeaWorld’s entire killer whale collection.

Although Loro Parque is not owned by SeaWorld, the killer whales held there are ultimately under the care and responsibility of SeaWorld. Furthermore, as a consequence of the original transfer of four SeaWorld killer whales to Loro Parque in 2006, there is also a responsibility of the US Government pursuant to the MMPA to pay attention to the welfare conditions of the killer whales held at Loro Parque today. (See the FMF white paper on whale laundering.)

On 17 March 2016, SeaWorld and HSUS made an announcement – in partnership – that shook the very foundation of the marine theme park industry, setting in motion the beginning of a gradual phasing out of the commercial display of killer whales in captivity. But is that enough?

The HSUS policy position regarding SeaWorld’s killer whales at Loro Parque as expressed to the US Government in 2010 was powerful, principled and represented the humane mandate for the welfare of the killer whales, and of all animals, that the HSUS represents. It is a position that SeaWorld needs to fully embrace.

SeaWorld has a moral and legal obligation to these animals and must act to secure their welfare. “ (HSUS letter 11 November 2010.)

Whether the HSUS partnership with SeaWorld will result in a softening of HSUS’s stance on the deplorable welfare conditions that continue to plague the killer whales at Loro Parque is uncertain. No doubt, it is an important question that will have to be answered by HSUS – preferably with actions rather than words.

To that end, the FMF sent an “open letter” to Mr. Manby and Mr. Pacelle asking them to meet with the FMF regarding the situation at Loro Parque and to discuss a long term commitment to work together to return Morgan to the ocean in a controlled, natural environment. To date, neither Mr. Manby or Mr. Pacelle have responded to the FMF invitation to talk.

Morgan as Her Own Best Advocate

Ever since being taken from the wild in 2010, Morgan has commanded the public’s interest in an international spotlight. Over the course of the last several months, Morgan’s plight has increased public awareness and outrage over the welfare issues facing her and other killer whales in captivity.

Two recent viral videos show Morgan ramming her head into a heavy metal segregation gate while being confined in a small medical tank and also show her “hauling-out” onto the main performance stage for an extended period after a performance. This was apparently in an attempt to escape the aggression of SeaWorld’s other killer whales who are also held with Morgan at Loro Parque.

The stories of these two events spread across social media and received mainstream coverage, including National Geographic, Time, People, The Dodo, HuffPost UK, and in this exclusive television interview with former SeaWorld trainer Dr Jeffrey Ventre on Sky News with Kay Burley.

For their part, SeaWorld and Loro Parque have gone to great efforts to try to spin the story about Morgan, claiming that she is healthy and doing well in captivity and that the recent videos show normal behavior. However, in fact, they are quite alarming and such a response underscores the paradox of perception by those who want to continue to profit from the captivity of these sentient beings and those who wish to put an end to it.

The Visser & Lisker report draws attention to the clear and obvious issues of Morgan’s teeth and explains why the damage is due to confinement in a concrete tank. This report and Morgan’s plight continues to gain international attention with new in-depth articles about Morgan appearing in the Dutch news magazine Vrij Nederland and German newspaper Donaukurier in August.

Pain Relief?

The images of the killer whales teeth in the report speak for themselves.
They are graphic, indisputable and universally recognizable as “painful” to any person who has had a cavity, chipped, broken or lost a tooth, or had a tooth drilled by a dentist.

These latest revelations about SeaWorld’s killer whales has the potential to take yet another bite out of the bottom line of the struggling marine theme park industry as it continues to struggle with a public relations campaign, trying desperately to distance itself from the Blackfish effect.

On 4 August 2016, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: SEAS) reported its financial results for the first half and second quarter of 2016. The results were not encouraging for investors. One analyst even suggested that SeaWorld should reinvest in the business, pinning its hopes on the addition of new roller coasters – not killer whales.

The world is rapidly changing and national and international laws and regulations and the government entities that are entrusted to enforce them, need to catch up to society’s expectations and demands. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure, the Visser & Lisker report gives both government regulators and marine theme park executives something to chew on.



Marine Park Under Fire After Video Shows Captive Orca Banging Its Head Against A Gate

3:29 PM EDT, May 4, 2016

Animal activists are outraged over a video they say shows a killer whale in captivity banging its head against a gate.

Last week, the Dolphin Project released video of what they say depicts an orca “panicking.” The footage was taken by an anonymous visitor at Loro Parque, a top tourist attraction in Tenerife, Spain.

It shows Morgan the killer whale, who is owned by SeaWorld, inside a medical tank where she forcefully hits the barrier that separates her and a larger tank that normally houses the orcas.

According to the Dolphin Project, “the orca is obviously in huge distress and rams its head forcefully against the metal gate in what seems to be an attempt to escape… This video shows the amount of stress and cruelty imposed on orcas as a result of confinement to small, barren tanks.”

Loro Parque told in a statement that the Dolphin Project’s interpretation of the video is incorrect, and an “attempt at manipulation through exaggeration and dramatization of a completely normal situation in which there is no problem for the animals.”

It added that Morgan, who is a wild-born killer whale from the Netherlands, was simply trying to reach the male killer whale Tekoa, who was in the larger tank. The zoo wrote that Morgan was not acting in “panic” but out of “sexual frustration.”

While the sounds of her banging against the tank might be disconcerting, Loro Parque stated that any mammal as heavy as Morgan, who weighs 2,200 kilograms, would cause a ruckus by pushing against the tank.

Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, called the zoo’s claim that Morgan was acting out of sexual frustration “disgusting,” and says the claim is “completely unsupported by an understanding of orca behavioral biology,” she told

Instead, she believes that Morgan might have been acting out of frustration due to being in captivity. “Everything you see in that video is ‘I want out,'” she said. “The whale banging her head on the gate suggested frustration. I’m sure it hurts — she was acting in a self-harming way, out of frustration.”

“She probably knows she can’t get out just by banging her head on the gate — they are smart like that,” Dr. Rose continued, comparing leaving Morgan in the tank to trapping a human being in a closet. “She’s probably doing it because she’s got no other outlet for that frustration.”

But she said she also disagrees with the Dolphin Project’s finding that Morgan is “panicking,” calling it an “over interpretation.”

“If the whale was panicking, there would be more white water and splashing,” Rose said. “You don’t really see that. You see ‘bang bang.’ It’s very directed.”

In a press statement to, Seaworld, which owns the killer whales at Loro Park responded: “The animals are cared for and trained by Loro Parque’s zoological team. 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.”


Heartbreaking Truth Behind Video of Captive Orca, Morgan, Smashing Her Head Against Tank

April 28, 2016

“Monday left me broken, Tuesday I was through with hoping…”

The lyrics from Avicii’s “Waiting for Love” can be heard playing over the Orca Ocean stadium speakers at Loro Parque as a young orca bashes her head, over and over again, off the gates of her tiny tank. The song is loud to entertain the paying tourists, but it is not loud enough to drown out the sound of skull smashing off of metal or the orca’s frantic screeches.

This disturbing behavior was witnessed earlier this month at the entertainment park in Tenerife, Spain, which is one of only two parks in the European Union still keeping orcas captive. Loro Parque currently has six orcas, five of which are on loan from SeaWorld, USA. As such, they are included in SeaWorld’s recent decision to ban its orcas from breeding.

The sixth orca, known as Morgan, was born in the wild. In June 2010, she was found swimming alone and emaciated off the Dutch coast and taken to the Dolfinarium Harderwijk in the Netherlands for rehabilitation and release. Instead of being returned back to her native Norwegian waters, Morgan was sent to Loro Parque. Just today, Loro Parque announced that the orca hurtling herself at the tank gates in the video is Morgan.

But why would Morgan – or any orca – do this? Margaux Dodds, Marine Connection Director and Campaigns Coordinator for the Dolphinaria-Free Europe coalition, is deeply concerned for Morgan’s welfare: “She is confined in what looks like a medical tank showing signs of either frustration at being confined or aggression towards the orca on the other side of the gate.” The medical tank at Loro Parque is only 12.4x7x4.2m, while Morgan is more than 4m long and some of the other orcas are even bigger.

Why Morgan was locked inside Loro Parque’s smallest orca tank has not been disclosed, but Loro Parque has claimed that “all we see [in the video] is that Morgan wants to open the door to… be with Tekoa.” Tekoa is the other orca visible in the video and he was one of the original captive-born orcas transported from SeaWorld to Loro Parque in 2006.

As well as calling the video a “manipulation” that is part of a “smear campaign,” Loro Parque asserted that its own veterinarians, as well as visiting veterinary and animal welfare professionals, have found that its captive orcas are not stressed. However, in the same statement, Loro Parque blamed “sexual frustration” as the cause of Morgan’s behavior. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, an animal’s welfare cannot be protected if its needs are frustrated.

Loro Parque has also confirmed that the banging heard in the video is the sound of Morgan “pushing strongly” at the gate, which she appears to be doing with her head.

“Head banging” is frequently observed in captive orcas and has been identified as a stereotypic (abnormal repetitive) behavior born out of frustration and stress. When these stereotypic behaviors cause self-inflicted physical harm, it is known as self-mutilation. A report by orca expert Dr. Ingrid Visser, who co-founded the Free Morgan Foundation, details how at least one orca at Loro Parque has been self-mutilating – that orca is Morgan.

The report also documented aggression between the orcas at Loro Parque, who are considered to be the most dysfunctional group of captive orcas in the world. The constructed artificial environments of captivity exacerbate conflict between orcas as there is nowhere to escape. However, if Morgan was displaying aggressive behavior, it may not have been aimed at Tekoa.

John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld orca trainer and supervisor of orca training at Marineland Antibes, has analyzed the video and found that, “It is unlikely that the orcas in the video are trying to displace each other as Tekoa does not appear to be vocalizing or ramming the gate back. The vocalizations that you can hear from Morgan, however, are very distinct in their sound and are indicative of a highly upset and aggressive whale; not a whale who is panicked or otherwise.”

Reinforcing the fact that head banging often results in self-inflicted physical injuries, Hargrove explained, “Slamming or ramming gates this hard is common with captive orcas and can lead to injury by fracturing their teeth, knocking out a tooth altogether and causing gashes and cuts to the animal’s rostrum. In extreme cases, it can completely slice the tip of the rostrum off, requiring weeks to heal.” Hargrove added, “It is also certainly possible that this behavior can cause hemorrhaging and ultimately death.”

Hargrove recounted how other captive orcas have died from ramming their heads into the sides of tanks and ramming each other. “You must realize that the force at which Morgan is slamming her head into the steel bars is comparable to if she were slamming her head with unbelievable force into concrete,” Hargrove described, noting that it’s subsequently “Not hard to understand how serious and dangerous this behavior is – and it is related to captivity.”

Given the severity of Morgan’s situation, Dodds believes that SeaWorld, the entertainment park claiming ownership of Morgan, should be obliged to give “an explanation as to why she was confined in the medical tank in the first place.” And this would be especially welcome in light of Loro Parque’s comment that the video shows “a completely normal situation in which there is no problem for the animals.”

At this time, it remains unclear why Loro Parque made the decision on that day, at that time, to put Morgan in the medical tank. The blaring music might suggest that she was locked inside while some of the other orcas performed tricks in an entertainment show for the public; this has previously happened to Keto, the large male who killed his trainer.

Or perhaps there was another motivation. The current unrest between Loro Parque and SeaWorld may have factored into Loro Parque’s decision. The Spanish entertainment park has made it crystal clear that it opposes SeaWorld’s decision to end the orca breeding program, claiming that the “permanent prevention of the reproduction of wild animals under human care is an action that goes against the very cycle of life and well-being of the animals.”

Despite this statement, Loro Parque does not appear to consider that the permanent prevention of the freedom and choice of the wild animals under its human care is an action that also goes against the very cycle of life and well-being of the animals – that the orcas have other needs and those needs are frustrated in captivity.

Evidence of this is apparent in the horrific video of Morgan crying, thrashing and beating her head against the tank gates as pop music fills the air around her.

Now that SeaWorld has stopped breeding its orcas, the fate of the orcas at Loro Parque, and particularly Morgan, seems uncertain. And it will remain this way until SeaWorld and Loro Parque release further information. In the meantime, let’s just hope Avicii’s words ring true – that there is, “In every lost soul, the bones of a miracle.”



Loro Parque responds to video posted on

April 27, 2016

The following was translated and reposted from Loro Parque’s blog

The video published by The Dolphin Project on their website is a new attempt at manipulation through exaggeration and dramatization of a completely normal situation and that is no problem for animals.

In the video shown Morgan (within the medical pool) and Tekoa in the pool B interacting through the door. The interpretation that Morgan is suffering a panic attack is completely incorrect and malicious, all we see is that Morgan wants to open the door to access the pool B and be with Tekoa. When any of these animals (Morgan now exceeds 2,200 kg and 2,700 kg Tekoa’s) push the door shut produce punches heard in the video.

The interpretation of a panic attack is completely ridiculous, orcas are trained daily to enter and remain quiet within medical pools, since it is an essential element for veterinarians to make routine examinations of animals or treat them when some of they are sick. In the same way a spider dog a door when you enter another room, orcas push the doors when they want access to another pool. It is surprising that advocates to end breeding in human care orcas be offended because of these images, precisely because sexual frustration at not being able to access the pool where orcas of the opposite sex to copulate can trigger this type of behavior.

Increasingly, some self-proclaimed animal rights organizations are dedicated to launch these smear campaigns without any proven information based on the welfare and health of animals. Loro Parque orcas are under the care of our team of veterinarians, and receive regularly visited by veterinary experts of cetaceans and medicine inspection by the competent authorities in animal welfare. None of these professionals has found that stress and cruelty allegations are true. There is no doubt that the interest of the organizations conducting these public defamation campaigns is simply to get donations, but not for the welfare of the animals, but for their own welfare and benefit.
In the last 22 years thanks to the work of a zoo internationally recognized for its quality as Loro Parque has been possible to invest more than 16 million dollars in the conservation of endangered species on our planet. The most important success of this work was to get two parrot species critically endangered, and help many others to increase their small populations and not disappear forever. What are the achievements of The Dolphin Project in the conservation of biodiversity? How much money have invested in the conservation of the most endangered species? How many species have been saved? The terrible paradox is that not only have not helped to preserve nature, but aim to destroy those who work daily to save species from extinction. How can then call themselves animal lovers?

Source: Loro Parque Blog

I happen to agree with Loro Parque when they say that Morgan wasn’t panicking. To me it looks like she is frustrated at not having access to Tekoa.

The question becomes why was she denied access to Tekoa. If it was because she had been kept away from Tekoa. If it is due to aggression or something of that nature the separation is understandable but still concerning. She is hitting the gate loud enough to be audible from across the complex.

If not to protect Tekoa from Morgan why put Morgan in a situation where she would do bodily harm to herself? Loro Parque’s post itself states that this behavior is “common place.” How is it not a priority for Loro Parque to do everything they can to stop Morgan’s self destructive behavior. Put her with Tekoa.

The park claims the separation is the result of the breeding ban that SeaWorld has self imposed and then goes on to blame activists for the move. There are chemical methods to keep orca from conceiving (look in Beneath the Surface), it’s bad animal welfare to remove and isolate Morgan under the false excuse of preventing pregnancy.


April 26, 2016

Is This Morgan?

Shot by an anonymous activist, this new, shocking footage shows one of the orcas at Loro Parque, a zoo located in Tenerife, Spain, panicking in a small medical pool.

The orca is obviously in huge distress and rams its head forcefully against the metal gate in what seems to be an attempt to escape. Loro Parque is the largest tourist attraction in Spain. SeaWorld owns all six orcas at the park, including Morgan who was captured off the coast of the Netherlands in June of 2010. The orcas at Loro Parque are trained to perform for food several times a day in front of large, cheering audiences. This video shows the amount of stress and cruelty imposed on orcas as a result of confinement to small, barren tanks.

Ric and I traveled to Loro Parque last year to carry out an investigation of Loro Parque’s orca display, which ironically, is called “Orca Ocean.” We were shocked at the poor living conditions and commercial exploitation of the orcas and bottlenose dolphins there.

Click the link below to watch the video of the incident on Dolphin


Twitter later identified Morgan as the orca in the med pool and Tekoa on the other side of the gate.

Personally to me it doesn’t look as though Morgan is panicking in the med pool but rather that she wants access to Tekoa and is frustrated that she can’t reach him. The question for me is if she wanted companionship or wanted to start an aggressive incident with him.

SeaWorld to Stop Breeding Orca

March 17, 2016

SeaWorld has announced that it will stop their killer whale breeding program. The announcement was made through a letter sent to the LA times. Takara is currently pregnant with what will be her 5th live calf. This calf will be the last born at SeaWorld.

This announcement comes with the news that they will be moving away from theatrical shows and moving to an educational format. According to Seaworld they will be transforming their show tanks and view areas (Shamu close up) to a more naturalistic environment. The plan to start construction with SeaWorld San Diego next year. SeaWorld San Antonio will follow and lastly SeaWorld Orlando.

If SeaWorld follows through on this announcement it would mean that they are finally getting away form circus type entertainment and finally becoming a true aquarium/zoo facility. SeaWorld has been claiming for years that they were an educational facility dedicated to conservation. However that simply wasn’t the case while they focused their shows on unnatural killer whale acrobatics.


As a species killer whales are not endangered (even though the Southern Resident population in Washington state is critically endangered). What’s more the captive population is only a few generations away from any paring resulting in an inbreed calf. In fact there are already several whales that are the result of both intentional and unintentional inbreeding. Adan and Vicky (now diseased) who are the result of an intentional half uncle and niece paring (Keto and Kohana) and Nalani is the result of an accidental mother and son pairing (Katina and Taku). Even A.I. could have only ever bought SeaWorld a further 1 or 2 generations. The only responsible thing to do is to stop breeding. I am happy to see SeaWorld deciding to make their actions match their rhetoric of being a facility truly focused on education and conservation.

Source: SeaWorld Cares