On Tuesday, Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project released alarming footage of a captive orca ramming itself against the gate of its enclosure. The footage was shot by an anonymous activist at Loro Parque, a zoo located in Tenerife, Spain. All six of the orcas at Loro Parque are owned by SeaWorld.
The orca in the video has been contained in a small medical pool. An audible cry can be heard from the cetacean as it repeatedly slams headfirst into the gate.
In the blog that accompanied the footage, the Dolphin Project speculated that the orca is “Morgan,” who was captured off the coast of the Netherlands in June 2010. This was later confirmed at The Dodo, which identified the orca on the other side of the gate as Tekoa.
As at SeaWorld, the orcas at Loro Parque perform shows for visitors several times per day. Last year, Ric O’Barry and his wife, Helene, visited the Spanish zoo and were “shocked at the poor living conditions and commercial exploitation of the orcas and bottlenose dolphins there,” writes Helene.
Keeping orcas in captivity has stirred considerable controversy in the last decade, with California legislators even championing initiatives to end killer whale shows altogether. “The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display,” said California Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) last year.
Back in 2009, a SeaWorld orca named Keto killed his trainer, Alexis Martinez, while on loan to Loro Parque. This was just two months before Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando (the incident serves as the central focus of the documentary Blackfish).
Loro Parque has disputed the cause of the orca’s behavior in the Dolphin Project video. In a statement to The Dodo, the park accuses the group of “exaggeration and dramatization of a completely normal situation in which there is no problem for the animals.”
The zoo claims that Morgan’s behavior in the medical pool is the result of “sexual frustration at not being able to access the pool where there are orcas of the opposite sex.”
O’Barry responded to the statement, saying that “[t]his is not an isolated incident” and that “[a]buse like this is routine.”