(WHALES/TAKE ACTION) NETHERLANDS — A captive orca named Morgan was found malnourished and dehydrated in the North Sea last year. Although law states that captured orcas must be returned to the wild, it is becoming clear that the Dolfinarium at Harderwijk has no intention of releasing her. And, thanks to some loopholes, it will be all too easy to sell Morgan into a life of captivity in the animal entertainment industry.
The dolfinarium (sea park) has been misleading people to think that releasing Morgan back into the sea will mean her death. But the Orca Coalition plans to reintroduce Morgan over a period of time, allowing her to adjust slowly to new challenges presented by the ocean.
Whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals were never meant to be kept in aquariums. No matter how “large” the aquarium seems to us, life in captivity means living in a cramped closet compared to the vast expanse of the ocean. Read on to find out how you can help save Morgan and prevent this situation from happening again. — Global Animal
Keiko.com, Hester Bartels
It is not unique that an orca is held in the Dolfinarium at Harderwijk in the Netherlands. In October 1977, six orcas ordered by the USA and caught in Iceland were kept for a while in the Netherlands. The Netherlands acted as a transit country, so that the orcas could acquire the ‘legal’ status to enter the USA, where it is illegal to capture orcas from the wild to keep in captivity.
It is now the same story with the orca Morgan! Morgan was found on 23 June 2010 in the North Sea, malnourished and dehydrated swimming near the coast. The Law states that she must be returned to sea, but all indications are that from the very day that it took her under its care, the Dolfinarium has other plans. Seven NGO’s worried from day one, formed a coalition and engaged a lawyer for judicial procedures against the Dolfinarium and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (the ministry responsible for wildlife in the Netherlands) to send Morgan to another marine mammal park.
Ironically, ‘morgan’ means ‘from the sea’ or ‘sea born’ in old Welsh, and everything must be done to return Morgan to her sea.
It is very difficult for the general public to critically question the Dolfinarium and its ‘good’ intentions towards the young orca it ‘rescued’ almost a year ago. The ‘activists’, as the Dolfinarium calls the Orca Coalition, a coalition of seven NGOs (www.orkacoalitie.nl), want to send ‘the little toddler into the big dark forest looking for her mammy’. The Dolfinarium states that the consequence is that she will be killed or will die, unable to defend herself, find a family group, or feed herself. The Dolfinarium even calls this murder. The Dolfinarium’s PR man is hired to influence public opinion and, unfortunately, using these kinds of one-liners people sadly do take the Dolfinarium’s position seriously.
The Coalition does not advocate for an immediate release. On the contrary, we are promoting a phased release as outlined in the Free Morgan Group’s release plan. This Group’s report is supported by over 40 experts and scientists worldwide and has been put forward to the Minister responsible for the case in the Netherlands. The report details a ‘roadmap’ to ‘de-train’ Morgan from dependency on humans; to let her learn to feed herself with live fish; and to accompany her regularly to sea to let her get used to an open environment again. Every step in the plan is reversible, so Morgan will be very safe.
During her captivity, the Orca Coalition has gently demanded that Morgan be transferred to a sea pen. She could have spent the last seven to eight months enjoying live fish, feeling the tides, gradually to hunt again, using her echo location, having more space and, who knows, making contact with orcas, like the pod of female orcas that has been spotted a few times recently in the North Sea. They appeared in the same place almost a year after Morgan was found.
It seems that the Dolfinarium has decided the fate of the killer whale without regard to the regulations and laws that are intended to protect these animals from the commercial entertainment industry, under which the Dolfinarium falls. We have discovered that for years, the Ministry has been accustomed to issuing licences for the rescue of porpoises without question. Some porpoises are returned to sea, some disappear into the entertainment industry for ‘legal’, ‘scientific’ or ‘educational’ reasons. We know that this is Morgan’s fate.
What has happened over the last 10 months?
- Instead of rehabilitation and release, Morgan was exposed to the public after five weeks. This is in direct conflict with the then stated intention of rehabilitating her and returning her to sea.
- In October 2010, 3 months after Morgan’s capture, the Dolfinarium issued a report stating that Morgan cannot be returned to sea without her family because she would have no chance of survival.
- Even though this report was produced by a commercial operation and was written by seven so-called ‘experts’ – experts, yes, but not all in cetacean behaviour or animal rehabilitation or release – it is taken in absolute faith by Minister Bleker of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation which has jurisdiction over wildlife in the Netherlands.
- The phased release plan by the Free Morgan Group is being ignored by the Ministry and the Dolfinarium.
- The permit and protocol issued by the Ministry when Morgan was captured categorically states that after rehabilitation the orca, which is a highly protected species, must be returned to sea.
- The Ministry has not taken any responsibility in Morgan’s future and has simply handed this task over to the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk, which, as we know, has commercial interests. Minister Bleker states that the Dolfinarium has complied with the regulations and that he has no opinion on the matter. However, standard practice is that ministers seek the advice of independent scientists in order to enable them to take a substantive position on issues.
- A pod of female orcas has recently been spotted a number of times near the Dutch coast. Inexplicably, the Dolfinarium made no attempt at all to gather DNA samples and other identification material to determine whether this pod were family members of Morgan. In response to the question of why the Dolfinarium was not trying to find out if this was Morgan’s family, one of its seven ‘experts’ handling the case stated that these animals were probably white-beaked dolphins. Even though the orca pod was spotted by whale conservations organisations from France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands all of whom identified the individuals as orcas and recorded the sightings, the expert himself did not observe the animals. If he had done so he would have seen that white-beaked dolphins are about 1.5 metres long instead of 8.5 metres, and while also black and white have a different colouration pattern than the characteristic orca. But then, this ‘expert’ used to advise the Dolfinarium in Morgan’s case may not know the difference between the white-beaked dolphin and the orca because although he is an expert in his own right, his expertise lies in birds and not cetaceans. He is an ornithologist.
- Recently, the Dolfinarium stated that Morgan has unfortunately become so accustomed to people that she cannot be released to sea. It must be questioned how an orca is able to survive inhuman captivity for more than a year and not be able to survive in her natural environment? Who are we to take this decision?! The law is there to protect these animals, and we have the obligation to adhere to this law. Up to now, Morgan has never been given the chance to prove whether she can or cannot survive outside a tank!
- We believe that the public must understand the situation and that the Ministry must take its responsibility. Morgan is not an incapable toddler, she is an orca that was born free but became separated from her pod, and she is most likely capable of finding her way back home, like Keiko did. She should be protected under law. All indications point to the Dolfinarium not intending to set Morgan free after rehabilitation from the beginning. If the intention was to set her free, the Dolfinarium would have handled the situation much more professionally. The conclusion can only be that if left to the Dolfinarium, Morgan will be sold and will disappear into captivity for the rest of her life. And we all know what kind of life awaits her.
No one can predict if Morgan will be able to connect to other orcas or if she will be able to find her family, but it is worth trying.
We ourselves would rather risk our lives than be locked up in a small room for the rest of our lives. We would choose freedom!
Back in 1977, Harderwijk got away with it, acting as a transit hub for six wild caught orcas. The law changed in 1992, but there is still a backdoor. The Dolfinarium will try to keep Morgan captive for ‘educational’ or ‘scientific’ purposes. Of course this is just an excuse to justify keeping a highly protected orca captive in the entertainment industry for life. She is worth millions. And while we know she will not be ‘sold’ officially, there are backdoors enough for this too.
By the ministry we have been officially acknowledged as a party of interest due to the statutes aiming protection of cetacean and/or marine mammals. We, our lawyer and our CITES expert adviser believe we have a fair chance of getting Morgan released
The lawyer tries to move the Ministry to accept a ‘second opinion’ about the future of the orca, and to take the release plan of the Free Morgan Group into serious consideration. Not only do we need to comply with the law, we also need to uphold it. Therefore, the Ministry is obliged to do her very best to release the orca back into the wild. Aside from preventing Morgan a future in captivity, it might be even more important to do everything in our power to prevent Morgan from becoming the pretext for holding any future orcas captive that strand on the shores around the world. Morgan’s case could be a shining example of how CITES works and how to prevent endangered animals from disappearing into captivity. All of this takes a lot of time and money and we are still searching for funding.
Seeing that the Orca Coalition will not give up, the Dolfinarium also engaged a lawyer a few weeks ago.
Let us ensure that the Dolfinarium Harderwijk does not get away with it this time! This case will determine not only the destination of Morgan, but every future stranded killer whale. We have to make sure that the right precedent is set.
You can write to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and the Dolfinarium to demand Morgan’s release at:
Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation
Attn.: Minister Bleker and Dienst Regelingen, Mr R.C.W. Aigner
2500 CM The Hague
Or send a fax (faster, given the urgency!) to +31.70.3786127
More Keiko.com: http://www.keiko.com/morgan.html