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Supporters of Morgan’s release celebrate a victory

August 3rd, 2011 by cdunagan

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:

Orphan orca gains attention of whale advocates, Jan. 14, 2011

Morgan, the orphan orca, gets her own lawyer, Feb. 11, 2011

Other news reports:

Dutch News: Morgan the orca to stay in Holland pending further research

Radio Netherlands Worldwide: Morgan the Orca to stay in Netherlands

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6 Responses to “Supporters of Morgan’s release celebrate a victory”

  1. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    A sick young orca imprinted to humans for a year now thriving under human care released to the wild after being trained to follow a boat. I hope releasing her might be worth the risk but question her safety and others when she is turned loose after being trained to follow a boat.

  2. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    A question:
    If young Morgan does adapt to being turned loose after being saved by and imprinted to humans – would that fact negate the previous idea that whales imprint forever only to their whale pod?

    We know, based on that notion, that Lolita had to have bonded to her human caregivers else she would have pined away decades ago.

  3. Howard Says:

    Many have voiced the concern that long-term captive orcas become imprinted on their human caretakers, or they are described as habituated, in a sort of human/animal Stockholm syndrome. It’s easy to imagine a multi-ton orca looking longingly at their feeders for instructions, without which they would perish for lack of direction. It’s true that a gosling, or a puppy, or a fawn may become terminally attached to their humans, but not an orca.
    All indications, from brain anatomy to evolutionary history to recent studies of cultural divergence to accounts of solitary orcas tell us that orcas maintain a keen sense of self and sociability that is never lost, regardless of time spent with humans.
    Trainers take the credit, but it’s not really necessary to train an orca, in fact they can’t be trained. They can only build trust, and when trust is secure they intuitively understand what is expected of them and will generally do it.
    Morgan will gladly follow her trusted companions out behind a boat in search of her family, and if they are found she’ll probably follow whatever cues are given. If her family wants her to stay with them, it’s up to her humans to say goodbye and go home. It may take hours or even days for trust to be rebuilt with her family and in that time her humans need to be respectful and keep their distance, and wait. It has to be up to her and her family to decide what to do.
    Lolita and Morgan build trust with trainers that earn their trust, and they’ll trust them to bring them back home, but they won’t forget who they are where they came from. Those 15-pound brains have to be doing something, and chances are it’s keeping all those relationships in their proper places.

  4. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    Just in case, Howard – leave Lolita where she’s been for decades doing just fine.

    Young Morgan seems to have a good chance to be reintroduced – thanks for explaining the procedure. It looks promising and I hope it works.

    For those interested in donating to the Morgan project – do you take donations?

  5. Howard Says:

    Sharon, I beg to differ. Please review the historical record of mortalities in captivity (let me know if you need references) or the basics of orca natural history (again, just let me know if you need help) or maybe a little empathy to gain some insight into an acutely aware, intensely social mammal confined in a concrete cell for 41 years. The miracle is that she’s still alive, but it’s brutal to use her survival as an excuse to continue her solitary confinement.

  6. Sharon O'Hara Says:

    I did and we have been through this before. It is an old story…the science types want her here to study what happens to her….if she dies during the transition you want…you will have learned something more about whales or Orcas in particular. You folks have not successfully turned one whale loose to live a whales quality life – not one.

    By ‘successful’ I mean living with their pod again without human interaction and isolation.

    Certainly the contrast of living how she has been living all these years and to be turned loose in these cold waters eating the available toxic fish is likely to end her life miserably – the opposite of the ‘freedom’ you claim she would have.

    I did not and have never have said living in a tank is a great way to live but that – thanks to humans – is how she has lived and is living. She alone of the stolen whales from that period has survived captivity.

    Leave her alone to live out what is left of her years to continue to educate and charm the millions of children who have yet to meet her.

    Lolita in captivity has probably done more to further the whale cause than anything your group has accomplished since she was ripped from her pod and these waters decades ago.

    Your job should be to continue bringing public awareness of our whales plight and enlist their help to ensure what happened to her will never happen to another one of these splendid creatures.

    The video of the whale caught in and trailing fishing line is a never to be forgotten sight for me and, I’m sure, anyone who has seen it.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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