Morgan, the young orca rescued at sea and nursed back to health in a Dutch marine park, will stay put in the Netherlands while an Amsterdam judge considers her ultimate fate.
Killer whale activists around the world are thrilled that Morgan will not be shipped this week to a marine park in the Canary Islands of Spain, where she reportedly would become part of SeaWorld’s corporate collection of captive orcas.
A judge in Amsterdam District Court ruled today that more research should be done to determine whether Morgan should be set free or stay in captivity. For now, the judge said, Morgan should remain in Harderwijk Dolphinarium but be moved into a larger tank with other marine mammals.
“This is a massive victory,” Wietse van der Werf of Orca Coalition told a reporter outside the courtroom. (Read the story in Stuff from New Zealand.) “This is the first time in history that the export of an orca has been blocked by a judge. It exposes the international trade among dolphinariums as a very lucrative industry.”
The judge ruled that advocates in the case — including Orca Coalition, Free Morgan and the dolphinarium — should work together to find a common solution. Also the Agriculture Minister in Holland, which last week issued a permit to move Morgan, must take more responsibility in deciding the future of the whale and not abdicate his decisions to the dolphinarium, according to the judge.
A statement from Orca Coalition includes this comment from van der Werf:
“Of course the fact that she now remains in the Dolphinarium for the short term is not ideal and it is definitely not a solution. But as she is temporarily moved to a larger tank and we continue to fight for her freedom, this really is an important first step in the right direction.
“It is clear that the judge saw a lot of dubious things in the Dolphinarium’s plans, and his ruling now opens the door to the possibilities of release. The decision today is definitely an unprecendented one and puts a spanner in the works for the ongoing lucrative and illegal trade in these magnificent animals.”
Moving Morgan to the larger tank will allow her to socialize with dolphins that she has heard from a distance.
According to a report by Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment was behind the proposed move to Loro Parque on the Canary Island of Tenerife, where five other SeaWorld-owned killer whales are on display. Many killer whale advocates assert that SeaWorld is eager to obtain Morgan for breeding purposes.
A plan to release the whale (PDF 552 kb) was developed by a group of killer whale supporters, including Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Robin Baird of Cascadia Research, both in Puget Sound. The idea would be to place her in a good-sized sea pen, where she would be trained to follow a boat and respond to acoustic signals. Morgan could then be released with observers nearby to see how she responds to other killer whales.
On the other side of the argument is a report (PDF 1.6 mb) from seven killer whale experts who said Morgan was not a good candidate for release, because:
- She had already imprinted on humans and probably would approach boats, which would create a hazard,
- She may lack the appropriate hunting skills,
- There may be a reason, psychologically or socially, that she became separated from her pod, and
- Returning her to her home region would be difficult challenge because of rough winds and waters.
For background on this story, see my previous entries in Water Ways:
Other news reports: