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Dr. Visser says park suing her over report submitted in court Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Dec 10, 2012 in Environment
Amsterdam - Two days before presenting a comprehensive report on the condition of orca Morgan in an Amsterdam court case, scientist Dr. Ingrid Visser said she received a letter threatening legal action from the park, if the report was not retracted.
In an exclusive release to Digital Journal, Visser shared the letter she received which was first delivered by e-mail and followed by a hard copy receipt upon her return home from Amsterdam.
Sent from the law offices of Jaime C. Rodriguez company based in Santa Cruz Tenerife, the scientist told Digital Journal that she received the letter at "Eight PM on the 30th of October ... two nights before Morgan’s court hearing" which was set to be heard in an Amsterdam courtroom on November 1.
Visser said that she immediately replied to the e-mail asking for an English translation, however her response was never acknowledged, so she had the letter translated by a friend. "It was a clear case of attempting to bully me," Visser told me, "and have me back down from what I was going to say in court."
The case itself revolves around an orca named Morgan who was discovered emaciated and alone in the Wadden Sea in June 2010 off the northwestern coast of the Netherlands. Originally captured and cared for by the Dutch aquarium Dolfinarium Harderwijk, 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. Visser and the Free Morgan Foundation have been campaigning for the orca's release since she was first captured.
Challenging the Dutch court's decision, the group with Visser at the helm, 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, 2012.
Prior to the hearing, Visser submitted a written report for consideration after observing Morgan at Loro Parque over a 24-day period in June.
In it, the scientist documented an unprecedented 91 aggression events between the young orca and other killer whales held at the park.
The extent of the attacks were so prolific Visser said, that Morgan "was attacked, on average, more than once an hour."
Furthermore, on the day of the actual hearing, Visser gave verbal testimony which claimed that by using Morgan commercially in shows at the theme park, Loro Parque was in direct violation of an EU CITES Transport permit for 'research' purposes only.
The scientist then introduced previously undocumented evidence from an October 3 visit that revealed the orca was engaging in violent and alarming behavior such as head bashing and other disturbing displays.
Visser testified that between June and October (just 19 weeks), Morgan engaged in repeated biting and chewing on concrete as a result of boredom and stress. It had worn the orca's teeth down to the point that they could crack, she said.
The missive, which Dr. Visser shared with Digital Journal in its original Spanish form and its translated English form, took exception to the scientist's report. And the park is now threatening legal action against Visser personally:
Our client "Loro Parque Corporation" has given us instructions to pursue judicial actions against you, as a consequence of the report, elaborated and signed by you as the author titled "Report in the Physical and Behavioural Status of Morgan," the wild-born orca held in captivity at Loro Parque, Tenerife Spain, which is going to be used in the judicial process underway through the Dutch authorities, related to the permissions of the orca identified as "Morgan".
The park accused Visser of using:
A series of assertions and opinions, which are absolutely false, due to lack of veracity, pretending to tergiversate reality, with the clear intention of causing damage to the reputation of Zoological Park Loro Parque, and in particular, to the work that is has been doing for several years with the group of orcas in their facilities.
If Visser did not retract or amend her report within 48 hours the letter said, then they would:
Initiate the appropriate judicial actions, so that the competent legal authorities, adopt the necessary and opportune measures, to repair the damage you’ve caused and ... one that might have been caused by a campaign in the media ... by said document.
Strangely, the legal letter also named Tim as being a media outlet used by Visser for the report, even though it has been published elsewhere on the web, including at Digital Journal.
Most ironic Visser said, was the timing of the letter which extended a 48-hour deadline set to expire exactly on the day that she was due to give her verbal testimony. But rather than recanting her report, Visser told us:
It only fueled the fire and made me think about how the orca at Loro Parque bully Morgan and how Wolfgang Kiessling (the owner of LP) was now attempting to bully me.
Visser also told me that Loro Parque had taken extra measures to ensure that Morgan can no longer be observed from the vantage point she held in June. Visser said:
The photos of the gates show what it was like when I was there in June ... we could look through at Morgan all day.
By July Visser added, "they were measuring up the screens for these gates whilst I was there," and Morgan can no longer be seen or documented except during shows.
The Amsterdam court is expected to issue a verdict in the Morgan case on Dec. 13, 2012, but Visser believes that Loro Parque lawyers are not through with her yet. After reading an e-mail received by a colleague, Dr. Javier Almunia, the Deputy Director of Loro Parque Foundation, indicated that more legal pressure was forthcoming.
Almunia said he opposed those "spreading false information about Loro Parque and the welfare of Morgan in our facilities," and then added, "Loro Parque strongly rejects this false accusations, and our lawyers are preparing legal actions against the authors of this attacks based in false statements."
But Visser told Digital Journal that everything she included in the report was not only backed by data, but also by photographic evidence.
The scientist said that the disdain shown towards her by Loro Parque's owner Wolfgang Kiessling and Brad Andrews of SeaWorld, was evident in this image she snapped while documenting Morgan. As Kiessling observed Visser about to take the picture, he put "his finger up his nose" she said. Andrews, just waved nonchalantly.
The legal threats are similar to those recently issued by Marineland's owner John Holer. A lawyer representing the Ontario-based marine park issued a five-page letter to Christina Santos, a former primary trainer for the facility's lone orca, Kiska.
Santos claimed that Kiska had been bleeding from her tail for months. The cease and desist letter ordered the trainer to retract her statement or face a potential $1 million lawsuit for damages.
Both Santos and Visser are at the mercy of corporations financially capable of retaining lawyers to fight their battles for them. It's a virtual case of David versus Goliath as businesses attempt to bury any opposition through the courts, knowing that few can afford to mount a defense.
For Visser and the Free Morgan Foundation whose operations rely on public donations, the road ahead could be a rocky one unless support can be garnered from the public sector.
Visser told me in an earlier interview with Digital Journal, that "public pressure will have a lot to do with the outcome" of Morgan's case. And she believes the same could be said for the legal case being pursued against her.
The scientist is currently revisiting Loro Parque to check on Morgan's welfare prior to heading to Amsterdam for the verdict hearing on Dec. 13.
As the founder and principal Scientist of Orca Research Trust, Visser remains the only researcher specializing in orca in New Zealand waters.
For more information on the Morgan case or to donate to Morgan's cause, visit the Free Morgan Foundation. A current petition asking for Morgan's freedom has so far garnered almost 162 thousand signatures.
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