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article imageDr Ingrid Visser presents verbal testimony in orca court case Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Nov 10, 2012 in Environment
Amsterdam - New Zealand scientist Dr. Ingrid Visser, presented a verbal report to an Amsterdam court about the condition of a young female orca named Morgan. Morgan's health she says, has been rapidly declining since she was sent to Loro Parque in Tenerife last year.
Testifying on behalf of the Free Morgan Foundation, Dr. Visser had already submitted for consideration, a devastating report on the killer whale after observing Morgan at Loro Parque over a 24-day period in October.
The scientist documented an unprecedented 91 aggression events between the young orca and other whales held at the park. The extent of the attacks were so prolific Visser stated, that Morgan "was attacked, on average, more than once an hour."
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.
Harderwijk Dolfinarium then advised that the orca was not a suitable candidate for release back into the wild and upon their recommendation, a Dutch court decided in November 2011 that Morgan should be sent to the theme park Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain.
Challenging the Dutch court's decision, the Free Morgan Foundation asked that the decision be investigated and overturned so that Morgan could be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. A panel of three judges heard the case November 1.
In a verbal testimony compiled from the data she had collected, Visser demonstrated how the marine park was advertising and using Morgan commercially in shows. An act that she says was in direct violation of an EU CITES Transport permit for 'research' purposes only:
Copyright Dr. Ingrid Visser
Visser then provided previously undocumented evidence of Morgan repeatedly bashing her head against the side of a gate mechanism, saying trainers repeatedly ignored the young whale, despite her calls for attention:
But perhaps the most alarming damage noted, was to the orca's teeth. In just 19 weeks after repeatedly biting and chewing on concrete as a result of boredom and stress, some of the whale's teeth have been worn down to the point that they may crack:
Should Morgan's teeth degrade further, then the opportunity to return her to the ocean could be severely compromised. In captive orcas, tooth wear from biting on artificial objects is a common phenomena. The damage is in fact so extensive, that marine parks are forced to drill the teeth down to the pulp. This leaves holes that must be flushed daily to avoid infection, as seen in this image by Voice of the Orcas:
 Chronic pain associated with poor dental health can lead to destructive behaviors such as grinding ...
"Chronic pain associated with poor dental health can lead to destructive behaviors such as grinding down the jaw itself" said The Orca Project.
Voice of the Orcas
Dr. Visser provided extra images showing tooth conditions of existing orca at Loro Parque who have endured tooth drilling:
"Given that Loro Parque has had to do this to their orca, none of who has even reached the age of 20 years old, it is also a good indicator of how bad Morgan’s situation is," Visser told Digital Journal.
"These orca have been in captivity since birth - and their teeth are in shocking condition," she adds, "yet, Morgan whose teeth have been destroyed, has done this in 19 weeks. I am angry to the marrow of my bones" she said, "that they just stand by and let this happen to Morgan. All they care about is breeding from her, not caring for her."
Dr. Visser's full verbal presentation may be viewed here, along with a full report on the hearing from the Free Morgan Foundation.
What is Morgan's future now?
"Throughout the entire court hearing," the Free Morgan Foundation said, "the Judges ... emphasized on multiple occasions that they wanted to perform their roles responsibly by giving due time, care and consideration to Morgan’s case."
As a result, the decision in Morgan's case will not be issued until December 13, a long wait for a young orca who does not have time on her side. We asked Dr. Visser about what came next for the marine mammal.
EB: The wait for a ruling must be agonizing?
Dr. Visser: Yes, the waiting is agonizing - more so for Morgan. She is suffering and what is really sad is that the pro-captivity people don’t see that - even with this evidence they are making excuses and saying that it isn’t an issue. The head judge did say that they wanted to give us a ruling right there and then, but they had to do due diligence and check all the evidence. I will be going back to hear the verdict.
EB: How long does Morgan have before she reaches the stage where Loro Parque will have to drill her teeth?
Dr. Visser: I would say if the behavior keeps escalating as I have seen, it may only be a matter of weeks before they may have to drill.
EB: Another issue is Morgan's location. With the Dutch court ordering her to Spain, do they now have jurisdiction over her if they rule in her favor?
Dr. Visser: No, the Netherlands legal system does not have jurisdiction over Morgan, which was one of the reasons that the captivity industry wanted her out of there - so that we would have to win in the Netherlands and then go through the process again in Spain.
This isn’t good for Morgan and shows just how devious these guys are - they care nothing for her or her welfare, clearly. We have begun proceedings against them and will file as soon as we can.
EB: How do you feel the court hearing went?
Dr. Visser: It is always hard to tell. The judge asked some telling questions, and had clearly wanted to give both sides a chance to present their evidence. If it was based on evidence alone, I think that there is no alternative but for them to grant Morgan her freedom. But unfortunately, that won’t be the case. There are the legal aspects to consider as well. Leading law experts have shown that there were clear violations, legally, with the keeping of Morgan, therefore we are hopeful that Morgan will be given the chance she deserves.
EB: What happens now?
Dr. Visser: Regardless of the outcome, we will have to go to the Spanish Authorities to get Morgan. Loro Parque clearly have no respect for her or her welfare and continue to maintain that they are the good guys and that Morgan is doing fine. Again, this is despite evidence to the contrary.
Visser explained that "public pressure will have a lot to do with the outcome" of Morgan's case, but with time not on the young whale's side she added, "we wait and we hope that Morgan can survive the interim."
The case for Morgan's freedom is also being supported by a petition that has so far been signed by over 150,000 people.
Dr Ingrid N. Visser is the Founder & Principal Scientist of Orca Research Trust. Born in New Zealand, she remains the only researcher specializing in orca in New Zealand waters. For more information on the Morgan case and to read the extensive rehabilitation and release plan in place for the whale, visit the Free Morgan Foundation.
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