Morgan’s Pregnancy

On the 22nd of September 2018, Morgan gave birth to a female calf.  This was despite the ban on breeding by SeaWorld (who owned all the orca at the time of conception) and despite the fact that her EU Certificate did not permit breeding (i.e., that she could only be used for research).  This infographic outlines the key actions by the culprits during her pregnancy.  More details are given below.

TIMELINE OF RELEVANT DATES

Morgan’s pregnancy didn’t happen in a vacuum.  It wasn’t an ‘accident’ as Javier Almunia (the head of Loro Parque Foundation and in charge of the orca) has claimed.  Furthermore, the male orca who impregnated Morgan, belonged at the time to SeaWorld, who had a company-wide ban on orca breeding.  The extent of the lies (under oath) and the duplicitous information portrayed to the public is easily noted in the full framework of a timeline and with attention to detail.

It is worth noting these key points:

  • SeaWorld had claimed ownership of Morgan as early as December 2012.
  • In April 2017, all the orca at Loro Parque were still under the breeding ban (including Morgan and the father of her calf).
  • Loro Parque allowed Morgan to get pregnant because they kept her with at least one adult male orca, when she was ovulating.
  • Orca are pregnant for around 532 days (approximately 17.5 months).
  • This means that the pregnancy happened under SeaWorld’s ownership and with Loro Parque in control.
  • Both Loro Parque and SeaWorld must have known about the pregnancy very early on (within weeks, if not days), based on Javier Almunia’s statement under oath that Loro Parque were conducting ultrasound tests daily (for monitoring ovulation’s) and the contractual requirement for Loro Parque to conduct blood tests monthly and send those results to SeaWorld. (see our page about orca pregnancy testing).

2004.  SeaWorld (USA) enters an agreement with Loro Parque (Spain) to loan four orca for public display in their commercial facility.

2006.  SeaWorld sends x2 males (Keto, Tekoha) and x2 females (Kohana, Skyla) to Loro Parque.

23 June 2010. Morgan is captured in the Wadden Sea by the Dolfinarium Harderwijk (Netherlands).

29 November 2012.  Morgan is transported from Dolfinarium Harderwijk (by SeaWorld), to Loro Parque.

27 December 2012.  SeaWorld files  their Initial Public Offering (IPO) with the USA Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  They state that they own 28 orca.  Basic knowledge of numbers of orca at each facility allow anyone to ascertain that SeaWorld has now claimed ownership of Morgan, but it takes until 20 November 2013 for them to  admit how many of their orca are at Loro Parque.

23 January 2013.  The documentary ‘Blackfish‘, which looked at the harsh treatment of orca in captivity, is released.  This fuels a public outcry and prompts for calls to stop keeping orca in captivity.

20 November 2013. Following further scrutiny by the SEC, SeaWorld clarifies that: “Six of these killer whales are presently on loan to a third party [Loro Parque] pursuant to an agreement entered into in February 2004. Pursuant to this agreement, we [SeaWorld] receive an annual fee, which is not material to our results of operations. In addition to generating incremental revenue for our business, the agreement provides for additional housing capacity for our killer whales.” (SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.’s SEC Form S-1 Statement, 20 November 2013.)   Head-count of the 6 orca are at Loro Parque are as follows; Keto (male), Tekoa (male), Adán (male), Kohana (female), Skyla (female), Morgan (female).

17 March 2016.  Due to public pressure, SeaWorld announces its company-wide policy to ban orca breeding.  They also confirm (during the following days) that this will include ALL the orca held at Loro Parque in Spain (as they belong to SeaWorld) and in their three facilities (San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando) in the United States of America.

18 March 2016.  Loro Parque makes an official statement that they do not agree with the Ban on Orca Breeding.  Their opinion is that the “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.”   They seem to conveniently overlook that the all zoos (including Loro Parque) actively control the breeding of their animals – for any number of reasons, including (but not limited to); preventing inbreeding, ensuring there is enough space, age of the animals and/or preventing offspring that are genetic hybrids.  For those who are unaware, an orca is one of the most valuable animals (millions of dollars) in any marine entertainment facility, so breeding them, like Loro Parque has done, has a very real financial benefit.

6 April 2017.  First likely date that Morgan could conceive, based on the 95% chance of a gestation of 535 days.  (See our Pregnancy Details page for calculations.)

12 April 2017.  Last likely date that Morgan could conceive, based on the 95% chance of a gestation of 529 days.  (See our Pregnancy Details page for calculations.)

 

30 June 2017 /1 July 2017.  First dates that transfer of ownership of SeaWorld orca to Loro Parque could have occurred.  On 7 November 2017 (see that date below, for more details), SeaWorld officially states that during the financial quarter period ending 30 September 2017 it had a “contractual dispute” and therefore began legal negotiations with Loro Parque in order to terminate the loan of the six orca it had sent to Loro Parque.   (You will recall that this contract had been in place since 2004).

The time between ‘last likely date’ that Morgan conceived and 30 June/01 July is 80/81 days.  This timing is critical when considering estrus cycles for orca (at around 40 days) and the frequency of testing for ovulation (daily using ultrasound) or pregnancies (either daily (urine) or monthly (bloods) – see our Pregnancy Details page for more details).

Based on the timing of Morgan’s conception (6-12 April 2017, i.e., only 6 weeks prior), it is logical to assume that the pregnancy is the key point of the stated “contractual dispute“.  Of note is that Loro Parque had continued to publicly object to the 17 March 2016 ban on orca breeding, falsely claiming that they are ‘required under the ‘EU Zoos Directive to breed’ their animals.  This is the first possible date that Loro Parque could officially own the orca.

30 September 2017. Last possible day for Loan Agreement (contract termination), between SeaWorld and Loro Parque.    Loro Parque now owns all six orca at their facility.  You will recall that SeaWorld states that this has occurred because of a “contractual dispute“.  Remember that this contract had been in place since 2004 and contract negotiations started 3 months ago, on 30 June 2017.   Morgan’s fetus is now 5 months old.

 

9 October 2017.  Court case in Spain – Loro Parque sues People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), claiming that PETA made false claims about the treatment of the orca.  (Of note is that Loro Parque lost that case).  However, while under oath to tell the truth (and while being recorded on video),  Javier Almunia (in charge of the orca) and Rafael Sanchez (head orca trainer) are both asked, “Are any orca pregnant?“.  Both answer “No“.   (Recall that Morgan became pregnant between 6-12 April 2017 – meaning she was 6 months pregnant when they both stated ‘No’).

You can draw only a few conclusions from these denial statements under oath.  Two possibilities are that;  (a) Loro Parque’s orca care and husbandry is so poor that they didn’t notice for 6 months that Morgan was pregnant; or (b) Loro Parque knew that Morgan was pregnant and lied under oath in the Spanish Court). (see details on the Pregnancy Details page, about how early you can detect a pregnancy in an orca).

7 November 2017.  The public are officially informed of the transfer of ownership of the six orca held at Loro Parque (i.e., ownership goes from SeaWorld to Loro Parque), via the Third Quarter 2017 Results, in a filing with the USA Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  The quarterly figure with respect to the orca is listed as $7.8 million dollars.  It is unclear if there will be more money involved.
The relevant text reads:
During the three months ended September 30, 2017, the company amended its existing agreement with Loro Parque concerning the orcas at that park. The agreement was amended in order to end its business relationship due to a contractual dispute. As a result, the company recognized an impairment loss of approximately $7.8 million during the third quarter of 2017.”
Therefore, sometime 30 June/1 July and 30 September 2017, SeaWorld transferred the orca to Loro Parque, abandoning them to their fate and as such they are no longer under the orca breeding ban or protected under USA law.

3 December 2017.  Spanish online newspaper El Dia, publishes story that reveals that Morgan is pregnant.  In that story, Dr. Jorge Soares, head of veterinary services at Loro Parque, confirms this status and adds that Morgan and her companions follow a rigorous health check every month (and sometimes even every week or daily) including weighing, temperature, blood and urine tests, ultrasounds, etc. (It is worth noting here that orca pregnancies, like those of other mammals can be tested using urine and blood and can be detected very early on in the pregnancy – see our Pregnancy Details page, for more details).

4 December 2017.  Free Morgan Foundation publishes statement about Morgan’s pregnancy, noting that “Morgan is a protected wild orca under European Union (EU) law and the CITES Convention. Under these rules there is a legal prohibition to use her for breeding purposes.”

5 December 2017.  Loro Parque posts their Official Statement on their blog, that Morgan is pregnant.  They state “The pregnancy was confirmed only four weeks ago.” (If that was the case, Morgan had been pregnant for 7 months and they are implying that they overlooked or didn’t know for this entire time frame, despite their claim of having excellent health care for the orca).

9 December 2017.  National Geographic published an article about Morgan’s pregnancy which includes a range of quotes from Dr Javier Almunia such as Morgan’s pregnancy was “An accident.” and “It is only after the delivery that we can check through DNA testing which of the two adult males (Keto and Tekoa) is the father of the calf. ”  He also claimed that “Morgan is now pregnant for five to six months.”  (You will recall from the infographic that by now Morgan has been pregnant for eight months and that Almunia testified under oath that no orca were pregnant on 9th October – i.e., when Morgan was six months pregnant and only two months prior to these statements to National Geographic).

15 December 2017. US Government National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) record SeaWorld’s transfer of ownership/custody in order to comply with requirements of US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).  NMFS records give the effective date of transfer of ownership/custody from SeaWorld to Loro Parque as officially recognised on 15 December 2017.  If this date is the actual date that these orca ‘changed hands’, then Morgan was pregnant for 8 months while still under SeaWorld ownership and recall that the father of the calf  (no matter which one it was), was also under SeaWorld ownership.  This is in clear violation of their promise to the public and their company-wide ban on breeding.  (for details see Notification 4374 submitted by SeaWorld LLC on 29 November 2017 for input into the National Inventory of Marine Mammals (15 day notice required)); NMFS Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR dated 14 May 2018) SeaWorld/Loro Parque killer whales FOIA Request No. DOC-NOAA-2018-001149.).

9 April 2018.  Morgan has been pregnant for 12 months.

12 April 2018.  Pro-Loro Parque blog “Zoos Media”, goes behind the scenes and then publishes an interview with Javier Almunia, who has yet another description about Morgan’s pregnancy; “We discovered her pregnancy in November 2017 and it was estimated that she was around 5 months pregnant at that time. We expect her to give birth near the end of 2018.”  So, this statement now reinforces the hypotheses that Loro Parque’s orca husbandry is so poor that they didn’t even know that Morgan was pregnant (and when they found out they got the conception date so wrong (i.e., by two months) that they were unable to accurately predict when she would give birth).  Of course, it can’t be ruled out, given their pattern of behaviour, that they lied about both of these points during this interview.

Interestingly, Dr Javier Almunia was asked “How did you find out that Morgan was pregnant?”   He replied with “During a regular routine actually. We use ultrasounds to monitor the cycle and ovaries of the females, a small fetus was discovered during this. It was only discovered after 5 months because the uterus is very large and the large amount of body fat on orcas distorts the ultrasound which makes it easy to miss something. Especially when it is not the main focus to look for a fetus.”

Such a statement by Dr Javier Almunia begs a number of questions.  For example just a few could be; “How ‘routine’ is ‘routine’ in the care of the orca at Loro Parque?” or “How competent are the staff at Loro Parque if they missed a fetus of that age?” and “Just how small an item can ultrasound pick up?” and “How small was the fetus at 5 months?”  Here are a few things to consider as you ask those questions:

In humans, the fetus can be detected as early as the sixth week and the heart beat at around six-and-a-half weeks.  However, as Dr Almunia pointed out, an orca uterus is relatively big compared to a human – but an orca fetus develops proportional to the size of the mother, so it becomes relatively big as well.

 

Loro Parque has claimed to be leaders in doing ultrasound on orca, including developing an ‘ultrasound atlas for killer whales‘ (which is unavailable to those outside of the industry, limiting its value).   As they have claimed to be such experts it would be expected that they could find a fetus before it was 5 months old.  The fetus at that stage should be at least the same, if not bigger than, “a normal 129-day, 136-g, 19-cm (total length) male fetus.” [where 129 days is 4.24 months].   This data on an orca fetus comes from Robeck et al (2004), who published a paper about artificial insemination of orca at SeaWorld.  One of the orca they impregnated died and the fetus was presumably extracted during the necropsy.   Even if Morgan’s fetus was curled up in her uterus, the size should be  no less than 10 cm long at this age.   To put that into perspective, in the same paper the authors show a follicle (on an orca ovary), which is clearly visible at 2.6 x 3.6 cm (see the image above, which is from the same 2004 study by SeaWorld).

Additionally, Dr Almunia has mentioned the ‘body fat’ (which is called blubber in all species of cetaceans) is comparatively thick.  That too is true, but we know that orca blubber is typically not more than 7 cm thick and from the few images available outside of the industry, which show ultrasound of orca, the signal is clearly not impeded significantly by this blubber layer – as individual follicles on ovaries can be identified (such as in the picture above, where the blubber can be visualised as the white band at the top of the ‘cone’ and is between 3-4 cm thick in this female orca).

26 April 2018.  Judgement from the Netherlands Utrecht Court regarding Morgan’s EC Certificate is released.  The Free Morgan Foundation requested that the Certificate be annulled because Loro Parque was likely to breed Morgan, which is not permitted for a wild-born (Annex A) orca, under the EU law Council Regulation 338/97.  The Court ruled that the submission was well founded and that the Netherlands Authorities have the ability to void (annul) the Certificate, despite the Authorities claim otherwise.

21 September 2018.  Veterinarian Geraldine LeCave, who has been employed as a contractor by Loro Parque for many years and appears in a video released today.  When speaking about predicting the date that Morgan would give birth, she states; “We believe the total gestation time for a killer whale is 17 and a half months, plus or minus two months.”  She goes on to state “We have the exact date that she ovulated and if we calculated those 17 and a half months, that would be the 20th of September.” (i.e., the prediction was that Morgan would give birth on the 20th).

22nd of September 2018.  Morgan gives birth to a female calf.  The likelihood that this calf is full-term is 95%.  Within 20 hours the calf is removed from Morgan’s side and placed into a tiny medical tank, alone.  Loro Parque has now had three orca calves born at their facility.  All three have been removed from their mothers and bottle fed.  There is clearly a fundamental flaw at with breeding orca in captivity, but the track record for Loro Parque is the lowest of any facility in the world.

 

Based on the information here and relevant Pregnancy Details given on our other page, Loro Parque should have known with days, if not weeks, that Morgan was pregnant. Certainly, after 41 days (the estrus cycle period for orca) and/or the first month, when Loro Parque were contractually bound to report blood tests to SeaWorld, SeaWorld would have also known that Morgan was pregnant.