Footage taken of a captive SeaWorld killer whale beaching itself at the side of a Tenerife water park pool has ignited calls for the creature to be returned to the wild.
The orca, called Morgan, is seen fully out of the water at Loro Parque, a popular tourist destination on the Canary Island, in the video taken anonymously by “Morgan Monitors”.
Morgan is understood to have been out of the pool for at least 10 minutes while visitors took pictures of the animal in the background, according to The Dolphin Project, a group campaigning against the whale and dolphin captivity industry who shared the footage.
One viewer commented: “Looks to me as if she was trying to take her own life, I don’t blame her.”
Morgan was taken from the wild in 2010 when she was rescued in an emaciated condition in the Netherlands by a local theme park, Dolfinarium Harderwijk, under a Dutch Government issued “rescue, rehabilitation and release” permit, explain Free Morgan – a group attempting to free the orca.
She was transferred to Loro Parque in 2011 by a Dutch court order after it was concluded she was not suitable to be released.
Some orca populations do occasionally beach themselves for very short periods of time while hunting, but usually remain constantly in motion in the water, even swimming while sleeping.
The Dolphin Project’s Ric O’Barry said: “While we cannot explain the reason for her behaviour, the juxtaposition of a previously-wild orca against the stark backdrop of the park’s performance area is unsettling, to say the least.
“Some people took selfies with Morgan in the background. Sadly, Morgan was still out of the water.”
Responding to the video, Loro Parque said it was “absurd” to draw conclusions from a short video and said activists were viewing the footage with an “anti-zoo objective”.
A statement published by Sky News said: "The orcas at Loro Parque are trained to leave the water on their own accord. This behaviour is used for manifold purposes, for example, for presenting the animals to the public, for conducting corporal check-ups, for inspecting their blowholes, as well as for testing hearing abilities of the orcas.
"Pretending that's a stress test shows an enormous ignorance about the behaviour of these animals."
Since the footage has emerged, renewed calls for the park to free Morgan has ignited in Twitter.
Loro Parque received six orcas on loan from SeaWorld in 2006. Since then there has been a number of births and deaths at the park so the number of orcas remains at six.
The park has had its share of controversial incidents, including the death of 29-year-old trainer Alexis Martinez in 2009, who was crushed to death in the jaws of Keto, a male orca .
Last year, PETA called for Spain’s Nature Protection Service to launch an investigation of Loro Parque after a visit by the group allegedly revealed orcas with marks from “aggressive attacks”, “missing or broken teeth” and some “floating listlessly and exhibiting atypical behaviour”.
In April, members of Free Morgan visited Loro Parque and claimed Morgan had a fractured tooth, hypertrophic tissue damage on her lower jaw and was observed “thrashing around inside the medical tank". Staff at the park denied the whale had any health problems.
There has been a global backlash against keeping marine life in captivity following the 2013 release of Blackfish, an influential exposé of orca captivity at SeaWorld in the US.
In March, SeaWorld announced it is ending its controversial orca breeding programme, meaning the 24 killer whales currently at the company's theme parks in California, Texas and Florida will be the last generation of orcas at the venues.
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