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Op-Ed: Orca specialist reveals devastating report ahead of court case Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Oct 27, 2012 in Environment
Amsterdam - On November 1 the battle for Morgan the orca will continue in an Amsterdam courtroom. Campaigning for Morgan's release is orca specialist Dr. Ingrid Visser. Visser has just released a damning report on what Morgan has endured while in captivity.
Morgan was discovered emaciated and alone in the Wadden Sea in June 2010 off the northwestern coast of the Netherlands. She was captured and cared for by the Dutch aquarium Dolfinarium Harderwijk. Estimated to be between 3-4 years old, the young orca was nursed back to health under the premise that she would eventually return to her natural habitat.
But it didn't work out like that. Harderwijk Dolfinarium advised that the orca was not a suitable candidate for release back into the wild and recommended she be shipped to another captive marine mammal facility. Despite an extensive rehabilitation and release plan submitted by orca experts from the Free Morgan Foundation, a Dutch court decided last November that Morgan should be sent to the theme park Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain.
The physical and emotional cost of captivity for the young orca has been a telling one. Dr. Ingrid Visser revealed just how devastating it has been for the whale in the newly published, "Report on the Physical & Behavioural Status of Morgan."
Visser observed Morgan for 77 hours and 16 minutes, over eight days (spread over a 24 day period), and documented an unprecedented 91 aggression events all involving Morgan. The extent of the attacks were so prolific, Morgan "was attacked, on average, more than once an hour," the doctor said.
"Since her arrival at Loro Parque, Morgan has been inflicted with more than 320 puncture and bite marks (all documented by photographs)," writes Visser and "this does not include the damage she has self-inflicted from abnormal and repetitive behaviours such as banging her head on the concrete tanks."
Visser adds that Morgan has not integrated well with the other orca at all. Loro Parque she says, "has an extremely dysfunctional group of orca who were all captive-born and regularly exhibit behaviour outside the social and physical norms for both captive and wild-born orca."
After several attacks on trainers, the park's orca are now deemed so dangerous Visser continues, that the trainers will not even enter the water with them. And with so much contained aggression, poor Morgan has been brutalized and bullied.
During her observation of the killer whale, Visser witnessed her being rammed, raked and chased. Public spectators have even observed the young orca being harassed sexually by a male named Keto. At Morgan's current age (between 5-7 years), explains the doctor, "it is inappropriate that she is subjected to such intense sexual pressure and she should be kept separated from sexually mature males."
Photographs taken by Visser during her observations clearly document the aggression that Morgan is forced to tolerate:
Morgan  as she is rammed and pushed sideways by the female orca  Skyla (right). Note the water being...
Morgan, as she is rammed and pushed sideways by the female orca, Skyla (right). Note the water being displaced behind Morgan’s dorsal fin, as she is forced backwards. (photo; 27 June 2012).
Photo © Dr Ingrid N. Visser
When these attacks happen Visser noted, the trainers simply chose to ignore them:
Note the trainers standing to the right. During all the attacks recorded by the author the trainers ...
Note the trainers standing to the right. During all the attacks recorded by the author the trainers were present, yet ignored them.
Photo © Dr Ingrid N. Visser
This following photograph was taken just 04 min, 37 sec after Morgan was snapped in the image above being was pinned to the tank wall by Kohana.
Afterwards, Morgan displays the fresh rake marks of the attack:
Morgan is lying with her right side exposed above the water. This photograph was taken at 16:33:45 h...
Morgan is lying with her right side exposed above the water. This photograph was taken at 16:33:45 hrs on 29 June 2012 (i.e., 05 hrs, 39 mins, 37 sec, after the attack).
Photo © Dr Ingrid N. Visser
On Nov. 1 in Amsterdam, three Judges will investigate the previous ruling by a Dutch court that initially sent Morgan the orca to Loro Parque in Tenerife. Visser, who is the Founder & Principal Scientist of Orca Research Trust, submitted her report (which can be viewed in its entirety here), ahead of the court date.
As one of Morgan's greatest advocates, Visser along with Dr. Lara Pozzato of the Free Morgan Foundation, have battled for the young orca's release from the moment she was absorbed into the entertainment industry.
After reading it, it is difficult to imagine how any court could dismiss such a damning testimony, and the history leading up to Morgan's confinement, is no less disconcerting.
Back in 2006, Loro Parque received four young orca on loan from the SeaWorld corporation, including Keto and Kohana. SeaWorld's orca gene pool over the years has been drastically diluted by inbreeding. With Morgan's addition, the corporation has access not only to a fresh gene pool but also the orca's offspring, creating a valid reason for SeaWorld assisting Dolfinarium Harderwijk with the transfer of Morgan to Tenerife.
The Deputy Director of the Loro Parque Foundation, Dr. Javier Almunia is quite defensive when it comes to Morgan. On Oct. 05, 2012, he released this report on the orca's integration at Loro Parque. Please read it, you'll note his observations are in stark contrast to Dr. Visser's, especially when he writes that Morgan "Met Skyla, and no agonistic reaction or signs of incompatibility were observed."
The deputy director did note one potential hiccup for Morgan however, and it was in regard to the orca's hearing. Tests he said, appeared to indicate that Morgan was hearing impaired or even deaf.
"I’ve watched her for more than 77 hours and never saw any signs of it," Visser told me via e-mail. Furthermore she explained, this report by Pozzato seems to suggest that Loro Parque thinks a hearing impairment will only strengthen their case for keeping the orca.
Visser says she believes that Morgan is just stubborn and has a mind of her own, but "even if their claim is based on fact" she adds, "there still wouldn’t be an issue." The doctor then points to this paper by Ridgway and Carder about a deaf and mute dolphin who survived for nine years in the wild, before being captured.
Morgan's case has also grabbed the hearts of the general public. In September of this year, a woman by the name of Anne Greene wrote to Dr. Almunia personally, to plead for Morgan's release. Green said:
Dear Mr. Almunia, I am writing to urgently plead with you to release Morgan the orca to the wild. Her family is located and the terms of her capture were to let her go back to them. Her imprisonment is unfair and heartbreaking.
Dr. Almunia's response was short, rather terse and somewhat incorrect:
Let me kindly remind you that Loro Parque received Morgan because it was requested by the Dutch authorities to give her an opportunity to socialize with other orcas. This decision was analyzed, supervised and approved by the Dutch court. We never requested the transfer of Morgan to our park, and she does not add any commercial value to our company.
Please if you know exactly where the original pod of Morgan is located send this information to the Free Morgan Foundation, because they still trying to find the "P" Pod (which was not the original pod of Morgan but the closest that they can match with 50% of the vocal repertoire). Nobody has seen the "P" pod since 2005, so I am sure they will be delighted to know about its exact location, even though this is not the Family of Morgan, but just a related Pod.
Unfortunately for Almunia, Visser's photographs of Morgan performing during shows for a paying public along with the billboards advertising her appearances, seem to indicate otherwise. As for the location of "P" pod, a report by Heike Vester and Camilla Ilmoni reported the sighting of an orca pod in Northern Norway just last June. Amongst them was P118, a close acoustic match for Morgan.
No one doubts that Morgan needed help when she was found alone in the Wadden Sea, but thanks to too much intervention by man, she now needs even more. The young orca's case is very similar to that of Springer, an orca who was also found lost and emaciated in the waters off Seattle in 2002. Unlike Morgan, Springer was transferred to a sea pen in Manchester, Washington.
Once the whale had sufficiently recuperated, Springer was transported to Johnstone Strait, BC, and released near her close relatives. She left with those whales, returning year after year with the very same pod.
Springer became the only whale in history to be successfully re-integrated into a wild pod after human intervention.
It's time to make Morgan the second.
For all the latest evidence on Morgan visit the Free Morgan Foundation. Watch this Public Service Announcement released by the Free Morgan Foundation and produced by Underdog Entertainment.
Now sign the petition to send Morgan home.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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