On November 1, Morgan a wild-caught Dutch orca, will have her day in court. She will be supported by a global contingent fighting for her right to be released back to the ocean.
In June 2010, Morgan was discovered emaciated and alone in the Wadden Sea, off the northwestern coast of the Netherlands. The initial course of action involved rehabilitating the orca for a return to the ocean, yet despite the recommendation of over 30 expert marine scientists armed with a viable release plan, it was decreed by a judge in The Netherlands that Morgan should go to Loro Parque, a theme park in Tenerife, Spain.
Originally, the young female orca, estimated to be around two years old, was cared for by the Dutch aquarium Dolfinarium Harderwijk. They named her Morgan and nursed her back to health. Care was rendered under the premise that Morgan was to return to her natural habitat; as such, the aquarium was not allowed to display her to the public.
Morgan's situation changed when Harderwijk Dolfinarium advised that the orca was not a suitable candidate for release back into the wild, and that they wished to ship Morgan to another captive marine mammal facility. Despite an extensive rehabilitation and release plan submitted by orca experts from the Free Morgan Group, a Dutch court decided last November that Morgan should be sent to the theme park, Loro Parque.
On November 1, those fighting for Morgan's release will once again enter a Dutch courtroom in Amsterdam, hoping to see the previous decision overturned. One group that plans to attend the court hearing is the social media group: Orca Morgan's Court Date.
Digital Journal spoke with Sam Lipman, an Administrator for the group who will be traveling from the UK to Amsterdam to attend the hearing.
So what is the group and who first organized it?
My group began only recently but the work for it started about two years ago. Just a few months ago, Ingrid Visser (Orca Research Trust, Free Morgan Foundation) and I, were talking about Morgan and how it would be great to get as many people as possible supporting Morgan's case for freedom at the hearing, which will take place on the 1st November in Amsterdam.
Ingrid asked me if I would be happy to act as a travel coordinator, along with Ulla Ludewig from Germany. Between the three of us, we put together a travel guide which provides details about the entire trip, to make it as easy as possible for people to be in attendance. I created the Facebook group and event as soon as the travel guide was finalized - it's a great way to get the information out there.
You told me earlier that this is the third round of the court process for Morgan. What will it address?
The case on November 1st will be held before three Judges. They will be investigating the previous ruling made to allow Morgan’s transfer to Loro Parque in Tenerife, and will also look at the legality of keeping Morgan in captivity.
Morgan was captured on a rehabilitation and release permit and clearly she has not been rehabilitated or released. Instead, she was put on display by the Dolfinarium Harderwijk in the Netherlands, something which they did not have a permit for. The Dolfinarium Harderwijk have violated their permit, and Morgan’s transport permit has been violated by Loro Parque.
Your group is planning to support Morgan's case in the courtroom, how many members are attending and from what countries?
So far we have about 25 members who have confirmed that they are able to attend from England, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Some may be coming from as far away as the USA and Ingrid is of course making the trip from New Zealand.
Courtesy: Ingrid Visser/Orca Research Trust
Morgan at the Dolfinarium Harderwijk. The orca was deemed unsuitable for release by a Dutch court last November.
What do you hope will happen for Morgan?
Morgan is a suitable candidate for release. She was born in the wild where she spent the first years of her life. In fact, Morgan has spent more time in the wild than she has in captivity so far. Scientific experts have been able to match Morgan’s vocalizations with a group of orca in Norway believed to be Morgan’s pod. This is huge!
Orca are incredibly intelligent, and evidence suggests that they have a great capacity for remembering, so this really increases Morgan’s chances of reuniting with her family pod. The group of experts supporting the case for Morgan’s freedom is phenomenal. Combined they have more than 100 years worth of experience working with orca. They really know what they are doing. My ultimate hope, is that they get the chance to do with Morgan what was meant to have been done from the very beginning – rehabilitate and release her back into the wild.
For anybody new to the Morgan case, what should they be aware of?
Firstly, they need to know a little bit about orca. It is important that people educate themselves about wild orca before this court case so that they really know what putting an orca like Morgan into captivity will mean for her.
Orca are incredibly big, fast, intelligent, social creatures that live a very long time – in the wild!
The second thing that people really need to bear in mind is that a captive orca is worth in excess of $1,000,000. That is just their individual worth and doesn’t include the revenue they bring into a captive display facility. Marine parks concerned SAY they are acting in Morgan’s best interests, but if she started losing them money, I am sure that their tune would change.
Morgan represents another breeding vehicle with fresh DNA to add to the captive industry’s ever-shrinking gene pool. She is a star attraction, a commodity. She represents money and she is disposable.
To me, Morgan is very simply a wild orca. And there is only one side of this court case that the wild orca experts are standing on – and that is the side fighting to return Morgan to her natural habitat where she belongs.
Lipman urges everyone to visit the Free Morgan Foundation website (www.freemorgan.org) for more information about Morgan and the Orca Aware website (www.orcaaware.org) where you can learn about wild orca and the research projects which study them around the world, (including Ingrid Visser's Orca Research Trust: www.orcaresearch.org).
Courtesy: Ingrid Visser/Orca Research Trust
Morgan now resides at Loro Parque in Tenerife while a bevy of orca experts fight to have her returned to the wild.
We asked Sam Lipman to share some facts about orca in the wild that people may not know but should be aware of.
Orca live a long time – in the wild females can live 80-90 years (with an average of 60) and there are some females alive today who are thought to be over 100 years old. Halve that age and halve it again and you are still lucky if an orca reaches that in captivity. Not an exaggeration, go check the facts and figures. The statistics show that longevity for orca in captivity is less than nine years.
Orca are big and fast – females can grow up to 8.5 metres and weigh in at 7,500 kg and males are even larger. Male dorsal fins (the fin on the top of their back) can grow over 6 feet tall! They can travel up to speeds in excess of 56 km/hr [around 35 mph], and regularly swim 100 kilometers [62 miles] in 24 hours. No pool on this planet could provide them with the space that they need. It really is like sticking a human being in a prison cell for their entire lives and believing that is enough room.
Orca are incredibly intelligent – they can recognize who they are, where they are and are capable of abstract thought (planning their actions and connecting these to consequence). They are social animals. Some orca spend their entire lives with their families. They remain within their pod, which remains within its community and most certainly within its ecotype (i.e. orca from Iceland NEVER mix with orca from the Pacific Northwest and not only that but resident Pacific Northwest orca NEVER mix with transient Pacific Northwest orca – unless forced to do so in captivity!)
Finally, Lipman added:
The point I am trying to make is that this species is incredibly complex and there is a lot about them that we don’t yet understand. But the facts that we do know show us that they do not do very well in small, artificial environments where they are forced to socialize and interact with orca that they would never encounter in a wild setting.
We only have to see the recent dinner plate-size bite on captive orca Nakai’s chin to realize this. Or remember the four human deaths-by-orca that have occurred in captivity as a result of confining these beings in such a tiny, empty space.