MORGAN & ULA
Orca Morgan, a well-known name that has regularly appeared on the website of VTL Photography. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 we visited Morgan in Loro Parque to see how she was doing. In recent years there has been much commotion around the killer whale, and there still is. In the meantime a lot has changed for Morgan, she has grown a lot bigger and she is the mother of little Ula. Halfway through January, reports came out in which activists claimed that little Ula was possibly seriously ill. So it’s time for a new update!
At the end of February we traveled specifically to Tenerife to visit Loro Parque. After all the reporting about Morgan and Ula we wanted to see how the animals were doing. To know exactly how mother and calf are doing, we had a conversation with Dr. Javier Almunia, director of the Loro Parque Foundation. In this blog we will talk extensively about Morgan and Ula and we will share some details we discussed with Dr. Javier Almunia! For all our international followers we have translated the blog into English.
Morgan’s pregnancy and birth of Ula
Loro Parque announced in December 2017 that Morgan was pregnant. This became clear after an ultrasound during a general health check. The pregnancy was not planned and there was no artificial insemination, Morgan got pregnant naturally. Because Morgan gave birth for the first time and because of her hearing problems, nobody knew how Morgan would respond to her calf. The park has done everything in its power to guide Morgan as much as possible. Morgan was continuously monitored and her temperature was measured every day. Eventually Morgan gave birth to a calf on September 22, 2018. They gave here the name Ula, a Celtic name which means “Jewel of the Sea”.
The delivery went well and both Morgan and her calf were in good health. Morgan immediately showed that she is a good mother and took care of her little baby. Unfortunately, it turned out that Morgan did not produce enough milk. At first there was hope that the milk production would eventually start on its own, but it soon became clear that Ula didn’t got enough milk from Morgan. Normally a mother orca produces around 6 liters of milk in one day, but Morgan only produced half a liter. In order not to endanger Ula’s life, the caregivers and experts from Loro Parque decided to intervene. And bottle feeding was started. To give Ula proper care, she had to be separated from Morgan. This was a difficult decision to make, but it was the only way to help Ula. Of course it would have been better if Morgan could feed her calf herself, but the health of Ula was top priority. In the wild, a calf is doomed if a female produces not enough milk. But luckily the team of Orca-Ocean was able to intervene on time. From the moment Ula was taken apart, caregivers and experts were present 24 hours a day to offer Ula the best care she needed. The young animal was cared for in the medical pool. The medical pool is the place in Orca-Ocean where the animals can be treated when necessary. The pool is made in such a way that the floor can be adjusted in height so that the caretakers can guide and help the animals more easily. In the first period, Ula was supported during the feedings, but after she became bigger and stronger, the extra help was no longer needed. Now there is one caretaker that gives Ula her bottle. To be able to feed Ula in this way, a basic training was started. This is a training that is applied to all animals and means that an animal learns to get used to, for example, the whistle signal and stationing*. In addition, Ula was trained to return to the medical pool from various locations. That is really important, so that Ula knows where she can go when it is time for her bottle.
* Stationing means that an animal remains in a place for the caretaker. In the case of Ula, it was very important that she learned to lie quietly with the caregiver so that she could drink her bottle propperly.
Nutrition for Ula
The milk that calves drink with their mother contains many important nutrients that the little ones need for their growth and development. Because Morgan did not produce enough milk, the specialists in Loro Parque had to put together their own formula. The milk that a female orca produces is very rich in fat, to ensure that Ula also gets enough fats, fish oil is added to her diet. Salmon or herring oil is usually used for this. The health of Ula is continuously monitored. Thankfully her progress is very positive, she is growing well and is getting stronger every day. There is not much knowledge worldwide about raising baby orcas with a bottle. In Loro Parque, baby orcas have been raised twice by hand in recent years, Adán and Victoria (Vicky). The progression of Ula is compared with that of Victoria and Adán, so they can make a good comparison. The development of Ula is exactly the same as with the other orcas, which gives a good indication that her progress is going well. During our visit to Loro Parque, Ula was 5 months old and weighed 300 kilos. That means that her weight had doubled since birth.
Training Ula We have just explained a bit about Ula and her basic training. The lady is now 6 months old and because the bottle feeds are getting better, it is time to let her get used to new training sessions. Ultimately, Ula will receive the same training sessions as her Mother Morgan. But this goes step by step and for the time being the training sessions mainly consist out of fun and playing. Because young calves have a very short concentration and are easily distracted, the sessions are adjusted accordingly. At this moment it is not important how successful a session is, the most important thing is that she has fun and also learns something. Mother Morgan is with Ula during the short sessions. Morgan knows exactly what is being asked of her and of course has much more experience than Ula. By allowing Morgan to show how it’s done, her daughter can copy her behavior. By having mother and calf work together, their bond will strengthen more. Do you want to see how such a training session works? Loro Parque has posted a great video on YouTube with an explanation. Watch the video threw this link: https://youtu.be/4yw9uL87OWE
In the last couple months, Loro Parque has regularly received negative messages and incorrect information has been spread over the internet. In particular about Morgan and Ula. Mother and calf, among other things, would have no connection with each other. But I can assure you that they still have a healthy mother-daughter relationship. Their relationship is exactly the same as every mother and calf, they play with each other, socialize and have physical contact which is very important for orcas. The only thing is that Ula cannot drink milk by her mother Morgan.
A while ago, after a short quiet break, there were new assumptions about Ula’s health. It was claimed that her health was deteriorating, and that she might have fought for her life. And all because of a number of photos … There were some photo’s circling on social media showing that the skin on Ula’s left pectoral fin had been affected. According to the activists, the pectoral fin and a deformity of the forehead indicated that Ula was not healthy. But that was based on nothing, the shape of the head is different for each calf. That does not necessarily mean that a calf is sick. In addition to the melon, the forehead consists of a lot of fat. It could be that Ula has just a little less fat on her forehead compared to other calves. The saddest thing is that no questions were asked to Loro Parque, just assumptions were made just based on a few photos. While there was not much to see. In the end Loro Parque announced that Ula had a slight infection in her left pectoral fin. After treatment, this is now completely healed. And has no further consequences for her in the future. Fortunately the rumors were wrong and Ula is just a healthy calf.
Personally, I still don’t understand all the commotion, Loro Parque has the best intentions for the animals! Loro Parque has its own foundation; Loro Parque Foundation, where millions of euros have been spent so far to help countless species of animals in the wild. Loro Parque is one of the animal parks in Europe that spends the most money on nature and education. In addition, it is also said that the park should be much more open about Ula’s health and share medical information. But I don’t agree with that at all. Loro Parque owes no one anything! Only to provide the best care for the animals!
Questions and answers
In addition to all the information that we wanted to share with you about Morgan and Ula in this blog, we have also have a number of questions and answers that we also discussed during our conversation with Dr. Javier Almunia.
How did the other orcas react to the arrival of Ula?Just before giving birth, the mother is set aside from the rest of the group so that she can give birth in peace. So the other animals were not around Morgan when she gave birth. The group must have noticed that something was happening and they undoubtedly noticed the presence of the baby, but it is not exactly known how the animals reacted to it because the caretakers and experts were busy with Morgan and her calf. The other animals were not observed at that time.
How do you prepare for the arrival of a calf and how do you know when the birth will start?You can never prepare for the full 100% because you do not know in advance how a birth will exactly go. But you can be prepared for different scenarios and that is exactly what Loro Parque has done. The caregivers and various experts were on standby to assist if needed. In addition, the temperature was measured every day. If the temperature drops by one or two degrees, this is a sign that the birth will usually take place within 24 to 48 hours. From that moment she was constantly monitored by the staff of Orca-Ocean.
How did Morgan react when she was separated from her calf?Morgan has always remained calm. Of course Morgan is attached to her calf, and she wants to be with her, but Morgan accepted the situation. The animals have a very strong bond with their caretakers, they trust them, we should not underestimate that bond. Of course we can’t look into her head, but she probably knew something was wrong. The caregivers noticed that Morgan became a little frustrated when Ula tried to drink and it didn’t work. So maybe she knew something was wrong and the caretakers wanted to help her calf.Although Morgan could not be physically with her calf for a while, they were never far apart. Morgan could always see her young through the fences. And she always had the choice whether she wanted to stay close to the medical pool to see her daughter or if she wanted to participate in training sessions or the show. Morgan could always make her own choice.
Is it known who Ula’s father is?Loro Parque has not done any research to find out who the father is.
How heavy is Morgan now?Morgan has now reached her maximum height and weight. She is now an adult female and weighs around 2100 pounds. And that is a healthy weight for a female orca. They are now also trying to keep her at this weight as much as possible to prevent any health problems. Morgan is now even slightly larger than Skyla and Kohana!
Did Morgan already participate in the show after the birth? Did she not needed time to recover from the birth?Wild animals are looking for food every day, after all they have to hunt. For a female who has just given birth, life goes on. They have to work even harder immediately after the birth. They have a major task in taking care of their calf. If we compare that with ourselves as humans, it’s completely different. Most women need time to recover, but this is not the case with female orcas. For Morgan this was also the case, the delivery went well and she was in good health so she could do everything as she was used to. And participate in the show is also part of that.The fact that Morgan participated also indicates that she is doing well. When an animal does not feel well, and is not happy, an animal will not do anything they don’t like. It is often said by activists that the animals are forced to participate in shows, but that is based on a lie, because you cannot force an orca. You can actually see a show as a training session, and everything the caretakers do together with the animals is based on trust.
Yesterday Loro Parque announced that the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament has closed, definitively. The Free Morgan Foundation wanted to proof that the CITES permit of orca Morgan was being used incorrectly. But the reply of the Committee is conclusively; “The petitioners have not provided any evidence of significant structural problems in the application of the rules in force” So this is once again a big victory for Loro Parque and Morgan!
After all the incorrect story’s about Ula’s health, we wanted to let the Dutch people know that both Ula and Morgan are doing great. For now, the story about Morgan will not be over soon. Another lawsuit is coming and activists will probably not just give up their fight. But luckily we know better, Morgan and Ula are doing well in Loro Parque! Just like the other orcas in the group, she and her baby receive all the care and love they deserve. And in the end that is the most important thing!