Morgan, the orphan orca, gets her own lawyer

Morgan, the orphan orca, now has her own lawyer — at least that’s how a Dutch television station put it.

The 2-year-old killer whale has been kept in a marine park called the Dolphinarium Harderwijk in The Netherlands for the past seven months. For some background, see Water Ways, Jan. 14. A coalition of environmental groups says the Dolphinarium has no legal right to keep the orca and is proposing a plan that could lead to her release.

The latest legal move was disclosed in a news release sent out today from the Orca Coalition, which is made up of several environmental groups. The coalition’s first demand is to transfer Morgan to a larger and more natural sea pen on the Dutch southwest coast called Deltapark Neeltje Jans.

More than 40 international orca experts connected with the group Free Morgan have proposed a rehabilitation plan to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. The plan calls for a series of steps leading up to Morgan’s release.

Meanwhile, the Orca Coalition is challenging the independence of a previous report from seven killer whale experts who recommended against releasing the young orca. (Northwest researchers are on both sides of this debate.)

After receiving the news release, I e-mailed some questions to get clarification about the Orca Coalition’s legal position. Spokesman Wietse van der Werf replied promptly.

Van der Werf told me that his group is relying on international law that prohibits killer whales from being taken from the wild for commercial purposes. The ministry has the responsibility to see that the law is followed, he said, yet the government has failed to act as the Dolphinarium talks about transferring the whale to another marine park, possibly Sea World.

Morgan’s new lawyer, M.F. Wijngaarden, has demanded that the Dolphinarium release information about the whale and that the Free Morgan plan be considered by the Ministry.

“The orca is entitled to a fair chance to regain her freedom,” Wijngaarden stated in the news release. ”The Ministry should not accept the advice from the Dolphinarium without an independent review.”

The Orca Coalition has entered an administrative review process that allows the group to be informed of any decisions for transport or export, with a right to appeal any permits, said van der Werf. Depending on the response from the Ministry, the process could lead to a civil action before a judge.

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