The battle to free a captured orca will continue at The Hague in the Netherlands tomorrow.
Morgan, a female orca, has been in captivity since June 2010. Alone and malnourished, Morgan was plucked from the Wadden Sea in a rescue attempt three years ago. Dolfinarium Harderwijk, near Amsterdam, had been granted a permit to capture her on the condition she was released back to the ocean once her condition improved.
In October 2011, Morgan was transferred to Spain's Loro Parque - despite growing pressure to release her. There she joined several other orca, with the park arguing she needed to form societal bonds.
Now, Dr Ingrid Visser – a New Zealand whale expert with the Orca Research Trust and co-founder of the Free Morgan Foundation – is one of a host of international experts who have mounted a legal bid to try and have Morgan freed from captivity.
Their bid centers on a plan to have her released slowly – not simply left to fend for herself, but housed in the ocean and closely monitored by experts. They hope this would allow Morgan to link up with her family group. If not it will still give her more freedom than she has had in the past three years, says Dr Visser.
"This little orca was taken into captivity for rescue, rehabilitation and release. What has happened is she was captured and put into an entertainment park for someone to make some money off her," says Dr Visser.
"The longer she's kept in captivity, the worse the situation gets for her. In the last six months alone we've been getting evidence which shows she has damaged herself more from banging on the side of the tank."
Dr Visser is concerned about the mental and physical wellbeing of Morgan at Loro Parque. The Tenerife-based water park has been at the center of three orca-related incidents – two of which lead to the deaths of trainers. As a result of the orcas' aggression, trainers have been banned from entering the water.
Dr Visser says she has no ill-will toward the park's trainers, saying she believes they are doing their best for the orca – but the nature of parks means these problems will always occur.
"They exhibit all sorts of problem behaviours, physical things with their health, mental issues - Morgan is a classic example of that.
"She's got problems with her teeth, she's got problems with her weight, she's got problems with her health, everything is an issue for her."
Loro Parque also claims Morgan is deaf, but has not allowed her to be examined by independent experts. Dr Visser says even if this is true, it is not a barrier to her release.
"Orca are very, very social and they tend to look after animals that are injured or have disabilities. We have a number of them here in New Zealand where the other orca actually catch food and provide it for them," she says.
"One of them is an orca that is known as Prop. There is an orca in South Africa that is missing its whole pectoral fin but the others look after it. There's an orca with a spinal deformity in Norway called Stumpy and they look after it."
In an attempt to have several US-based orcas freed, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) tried to highlight a perceived comparison between whales and humans – it was unsuccessful.
"There's lots of parallels that you can draw between them and humans," says Dr Visser.
"So many of these parallels have been drawn, that in one case there's been a court case taken in the US where the orca were portrayed as slaves in the same way that humans were used as slaves. These parallels are very controversial… but we've got the same things happening with these orca."
The outcome of tomorrow's court case will be limited; the Dutch court has no authority over the Spanish park where Morgan is currently being held. Dr Visser hopes the matter will be referred upward to the European Union, which could force a release order.
New Zealanders who wish to help can do so through the Free Morgan Foundation.
It seems to bee too late to free her now... she has already been too humanized. They had their chance to free her before, why will now be any different? But something definitely needs to change for her and all the other Loro Paurqe orcas.
Dec 3, 2013 - 3:32PM
Re: Captured orca Morgan to get day in court
just another captive causality...you must kill the facility to stop the killing. begging for one animals plays into their hands. and accomplishes nothing!