Legal actions swirl around orcas Morgan and Lolita

UPDATE: Dec. 13, 2012

Advocates for the release of Morgan have failed in their appeal to overturn the court ruling that transferred the young killer whale to Loro Parque, a Spanish amusement park. An appeals court ruled that the transfer was not unlawful. See today’s Dutch News

Barbara van Genne of Orca Coalition:

“Morgan is provisionally kept in Tenerife. Fortunately, in Spain animal protectors are attracting the fate of the orca and want to continue our fight there. We’ll continue to monitor Morgan and we will help where we can. And in the Netherlands we focus on the future, to ensure that stranded cetaceans will no longer fall in the hands of the commercial industry. The fact that the license for the care of these animals is no longer in the name of the amusement park Dolfinarium, but in the name of SOS Dolphin, is a good first step.”

—–

UPDATE: Nov. 29

Morgan was loaded into a plane today and flown to her new home in Loro Parque, an amusement park on the Spanish island of Tenerife. The transport, which involved trucks on both ends of the trip, was uneventful.

Toby Sterling covered the story for the Associated Press.
—–
UPDATE: Nov. 21

A Dutch court ruled this morning that Morgan may be sent to live at Loro Parque aquarium, ruling against advocates who had hoped to reunite the young orca with her family in Norway.

In a written finding, Judge M. de Rooij said chances of the female whale surviving in the wild were “too unsure,” according to a report by Toby Sterling of the Associated Press.

“Morgan can be transferred to Loro Parque for study and education to benefit the protection or maintenance of the species,” she was quoted as saying.

Reactions among supporters for her release are being compiled on the Free Morgan website.

Ingrid Visser, who helped lay the scientific groundwork for Morgan’s release, was quoted as saying the only hope for Morgan now now lie with the Spanish courts or the Norwegian government.

“Personally, I am devastated that after all these months of fighting the good fight, to find that reason and science lost over money and ulterior motives,” Visser wrote on the Free Morgan page. “Our long-term goal of establishing laws to ever prevent an animal in need being turned into an animal used for profit and personal gain will not stop with Morgan’s incarceration.”
—–

Separate legal actions continue to swirl around two famous killer whales, Morgan and Lolita.

The fate of Morgan, the orphan killer whale, lies with an Amsterdam judge who is scheduled to decide tomorrow if the orca should be moved permanently to an aquarium in Spain or be taken to a coastal location where she might be reunited with her family.
said

Steve Hearn, head trainer at Dolfinarium Harderwijk, plays with Morgan at feeding time two weeks ago.
Associated Press photo by Peter Dejong

Morgan, estimated to be 3 to 5 years old, was rescued in poor condition last year in the Wadden Sea and was nursed back to health in a marine park called Harderwijk Dolfinarium. Advocates for her release say Morgan is being commercially exploited in violation of international law regarding marine mammals.

As for Lolita, animal-rights groups in the United States filed a lawsuit last week regarding the killer whale captured in Puget Sound in 1970 and kept in the Miami Seaquarium almost her entire life.

The new lawsuit contends that Lolita should have not have been excluded as part of the “endangered” population when the federal government listed the Southern Residents under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say if Lolita is included among the endangered orcas, it will lead to better treatment and possibly a reunion with her relatives.

Morgan’s story

Advocates for Morgan’s release say her caretakers at the marine park did a good job nursing her back to health, but the law requires that every effort be made to release marine mammals after rehabilitation is complete.

The dolphinarium filed a report saying that it is unlikely that Morgan would be able to survive in the wild and that finding her family was unlikely. Some experts who supported that initial report have since changed their minds, however.

Dutch Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker sided with dolphinarium officials, saying moving Morgan to a large tank at Loro Parque is best under the circumstances. That decision was unchanged after the judge ruled that the ministry must conduct its own evaluation, independent of the dolphinarium.

As time goes on, experts associated with the Free Morgan Foundation say they are getting close to identifying Morgan’s family group, based on recordings of vocalizations. In the latest report, researchers Heike Vester and Filipa I. P. Samarra said, “We do consider it likely that Morgan is either from group P or a group closely related to group P,” which are among the orcas that live in Norway. Check out the report, “Comparison of Morgan’s discrete stereotyped call repertoire with a recent catalogue of Norwegian killer whale calls” (PDF 5.9 mb).

Here are the Water Ways entries I’ve posted so far about Morgan:

Aug. 3, 2011: Supporters of Morgan’s release celebrate a victory

Feb. 2, 2011: Morgan, the orphan orca, gets her own lawyer

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

Lolita’s new lawsuit

The Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are asking that Lolita be included in the population listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

It isn’t clear what this would accomplish, but the groups make the point that the Endangered Species Act makes some exceptions for listing animals kept in captivity, but the focus is on using those animals for recovery of the listed population and does not apply to animals kept for commercial use, the groups argue. Quoting from the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle (PDF 92 kb):

“In its final listing decision (in 2005), NMFS provided no explanation for its decision to exclude all of the captive members of the Southern Resident killer whale population from the listing of that population as endangered.

“Because of its final listing decision, NMFS has excluded Lolita from the protections of the ESA, thereby allowing her to be kept in conditions that harm and harass her, and that would otherwise be prohibited under the “take” prohibition of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a), including, but not limited to, being kept in an inadequate tank, without companions of her own species or adequate protection from the sun.”

The group asks the court to set aside the portion of the listing decision that excluded Lolita from the endangered population, because it was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law.”

Some Water Ways entries related to Lolita:

Aug. 8, 2010: Thinking of Lolita, the captive killer whale

July 15, 2010: Lolita’s fate could become linked to Gulf disaster

Jan. 23, 2008: Lolita, the orca, makes news again

Jan. 12, 2008: Celebrities and a ‘beautiful whale’

21 thoughts on “Legal actions swirl around orcas Morgan and Lolita

  1. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are asking that Lolita be included in the population listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”

    A clear case of a non-profit getting too much donated money. They waste it on a non-issue.
    Lolita has survived and thrived where she is…leave her alone.

  2. Sharon, I would ask you to read the full story of Lolita to understand better the implications of her captivity and her case. Or perhaps you’re affiliated with Seaquarium and feel compelled to defend the status quo.

    Your generalization shows an insensitivity to the complexity that is orcas and to Lolita’s individual plight. If organizations like ALDF, among others, did not exist, the world would be an incredibly dark place for animals …. well, darker than it already is. I love how people paint animal organizations with such a derogatory brush, not fully grasping what it is they see everyday and fight to rectify.

  3. UPDATE: Nov. 21

    A Dutch court ruled this morning that Morgan may be sent to live at Loro Parque aquarium, ruling against advocates who had hoped to reunite the young orca with her family in Norway.

    In a written finding, Judge M. de Rooij said chances of the female whale surviving in the wild were “too unsure,” according to a report by Toby Sterling of the Associated Press.

    “Morgan can be transferred to Loro Parque for study and education to benefit the protection or maintenance of the species,” she was quoted as saying.

    Reactions among supporters for her release are being compiled on the Free Morgan website.

    Ingrid Visser, who helped lay the scientific groundwork for Morgan’s release, was quoted as saying the only hope for Morgan now now lie with the Spanish courts or the Norwegian government.

    “Personally, I am devastated that after all these months of fighting the good fight, to find that reason and science lost over money and ulterior motives,” Visser wrote on the Free Morgan page. “Our long-term goal of establishing laws to ever prevent an animal in need being turned into an animal used for profit and personal gain will not stop with Morgan’s incarceration.”

  4. ““Our long-term goal of establishing laws to ever prevent an animal in need being turned into an animal used for profit and personal gain will not stop with Morgan’s incarceration.””

    The point was Morgan was in need when he was taken in and cared for into good health again. Wasn’t he likely to die had he been left in his natural element?

    Do you call that kind of care “used for profit and personal gain”?

    Next time a sick whale is found perhaps they should be left to let the elements decide their fate rather than allow the people working to save Morgan subjected to lawsuits such as this one.

    There should be a law against imprisoning ANY healthy whales and those who do so thrown into jail.

    What is the success rate of captured whales returned to their natural waterways?

    So far as I know NONE have been reunited with their pods and lived out their natural lives – NONE.

  5. Chris – I happily stand corrected!

    The first two urls were “Page not found” but the June 30, 2004 url worked.

    Has Springer been seen since 2004?
    How long was she away from her pod before the successful return?

    Do you see a difference in success between reuniting a young whale separated a short time from her pod to one separated years and bonding with the humans working with it in a pool setting?

  6. I fixed the links I mentioned above. (There was a space in both URLs where they didn’t belong, and I forgot to check them after posting the comment.)

    I can’t help but wonder what people in the Netherlands were thinking about Morgan when she came under their care. In Springer’s case, her handlers were careful to keep human contact to a minimum. She was fed fish through a tube that came out under water, so she would not associate humans with food.

    Why was Morgan handled directly and allowed to have so many people around her? Did anyone even consider that she might be returned to her family?

  7. It might be that Morgan was in serious medical failure and they didn’t expect him to survive and/or couldn’t treat him without direct hand’s on approach.

    Good for Springer’s handlers – they didn’t imprint – it worked! I’m glad to know about Springer.

    I’ve got a tale to tell about this very subject – someday. How direct human contact can end up disastrous and/or life changing for the wild critter the human ‘tames’.

  8. @Sharon O’Hara wrote: “Lolita has survived and thrived where she is…leave her alone.”

    So how exactly does her violent kidnapping from her home waters and family, followed by an isolated, unnatural existence of indentured servitude qualify as “thriving”?

    Had she not been captured and imprisoned… left alone as you suggest… she would be swimming with her family today instead. I think the latter is a much better example of thriving, don’t you?

  9. UPDATE: Nov. 29
    Morgan was loaded into a plane today and flown to her new home in Loro Parque, an amusement park on the Spanish island of Tenerife. The transport, which involved trucks on both ends of the trip, was uneventful.

    Toby Sterling covered the story for the Associated Press.

  10. D.C. If you bothered to read what I’ve said on the subject you would KNOW how I feel about whales takes out of their environment.
    To uproot them after decades of captivity and human contact and put them back into a now hostile environment is nothing less than the same cruelty shown when they were violently ripped from these cold and now polluted waterways. Leave Lolita alone.

    Morgan is lucky he was able to bond with humans – under the circumstances.

    I feel sad about Morgan though and hope the whale watchers never stop fighting for the rights of whales – the pre-captive whales, that is.

  11. Where in Lolita’s retirement plan does it mention that she would be introduced into a hostile environment? The waters most hostile to her are those of MSQ and Biscayne Bay.

  12. Lolita could not have survived all these decades in ‘hostile’ waters – as she has lived for over 40 years. Of all the whales captured in 1970 she is the only one to survive in captivity.

    Now you would rip her from familiar people and
    environment and throw her into our polluted waters and fish. Why hurt her again?

  13. You suggest that Lolita is thriving in captivity and that the Salish Sea is more polluted than the waters of Biscayne Bay. However, the ill effects of captivity on cetaceans is well documented as is the poor water quality of Biscayne Bay. Her retirement plan proposes to use those familiar people you mentioned along with the experts here who have studied her family for decades. You are mistaken if you believe the plan is to hurt her.

  14. I suggest that Lolita is surviving and living in captivity – 40 YEARS! – against all known data about whales being unable to live away from their pod – she has done it.

    I am suggesting that she has bonded where she is with people and her environment against all odds.

    I am suggesting that you folks want to upend her again – just another whale you can study up close and personal.

    I don’t believe and never suggested that you want to hurt her but I doubt she will survive a year after the trauma of a move and trying to survive in these polluted waterways.
    You folks are trying to fix what isn’t broken.
    Be careful what you wish for – you might get it.

  15. Lolita is approximately middle aged for a healthy, wild orca, but for a captive orca she is very likely to be near the end of her life.

    So do I understand that these are your points:

    Lolita should stay where she is because she had no choice but to bond with the MSQ staff and so-called “environment.”

    She will not survive a year if retired.

    The waters of Biscayne Bay are less polluted than the Salish Sea.

    I am motivated, not by a desire to see her returned to home waters and family, but to simply see her upended.

    I want to study her up close and personal in the Salish Sea.

    She should be subjected to even more ill-effects of captivity because 40 years is not enough.

  16. Reporter Craig Welch of the Seattle Times brings some expert voices into this ongoing debate about the potential for releasing Lolita into Puget Sound and the merits of the lawsuit outlined above.

  17. UPDATE: Dec. 13, 2012

    Advocates for the release of Morgan have failed in their appeal to overturn the court ruling that transferred the young killer whale to Loro Parque, a Spanish amusement park. An appeals court ruled that the transfer was not unlawful. See today’s Dutch News

    Barbara van Genne of Orca Coalition:

    “Morgan is provisionally kept in Tenerife. Fortunately, in Spain animal protectors are attracting the fate of the orca and want to continue our fight there. We’ll continue to monitor Morgan and we will help where we can. And in the Netherlands we focus on the future, to ensure that stranded cetaceans will no longer fall in the hands of the commercial industry. The fact that the license for the care of these animals is no longer in the name of the amusement park Dolfinarium, but in the name of SOS Dolphin, is a good first step.”

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