A new appeal hearing in the orca Morgan case will come before the Dutch courts soon, possibly as early as August. At stake is the young killer whale’s freedom as well as the potential to set a new legal precedent and change the lives of other captive animals forever. While the outcome of the case is anything but set in stone, we see great potential and with your support we can give it our best. The Black Fish is working as part of the Orca Coalition to bring the case before the Dutch courts and is asking your help in raising the necessary legal fees.
On June 23rd 2010, a young female killer whale was found stranded in the Wadden Sea, off the Dutch coast. The orca was brought to the Dutch dolphinarium at Harderwijk and given the name ‘Morgan’. The company vowed they would care for her until she regained her strength to be released, however it started allowing paid costumers to visit Morgan after only a few weeks, something that would get the orca used to humans and would complicate any rehabilitation and release effort. Not long after the dolphinarium mentioned the US based marine mammal park Sea World as a possible destination for orca Morgan and it was at this stage that a group of concerned Dutch animal welfare and conservation NGO’s founded the Orca Coalition.
At about the same time, a group of orca experts and scientists started the Free Morgan Foundation. This unique group of independent orca scientists and cetacean specialists presented a rehabilitation plan to the dolphinarium and the responsible Ministry in November 2010. The plan presented in great detail how orca Morgan’s release back into her habitat off the coast of Norway could be realised.
Instead of analysing its recommendations, the report was pushed aside and ignored while a separate report presented by the dolphinarium recommending orca Morgan to remain in captivity was adopted by the Ministry promptly, without any independent review. The Orca Coalition gained wide national and international media attention with its call to free Morgan and challenged both the independence and the expertise of the dolphinarium report. The ‘report’ has been branded as ‘biased’ because it is based on advice being solicited from an orca trainer, a Sea World veterinarian, a seabird expert, and someone who had worked within the dolphinarium industry for many years.
Soon after the launch of its report, the dolphinarium applied for a permit to move Morgan to the marine park Loro Parque, on the Spanish island of Tenerife. The park had a long history of mismanagement, withholding of proper care to the animals and the hiring of unqualified trainers. Despite this, the Dutch ministry granted the permit without delay and the young orca was being prepared for transport.
The Orca Coalition’s response was swift. A legal campaign was started and Dutch top-lawyer Marq Wijngaarden put pressure on the Ministry to ensure the future of the orca would be assessed by independent orca experts and scientists, not by people appointed by the dolphinarium itself. Furthermore, there already was a detailed rehabilitation plan on the table and its feasibility needed to be seriously considered. International laws state that, after rehabilitation, orcas (which are highly protected by law) and other cetaceans should be returned to their original habitat, where possible. The Dutch ministry simply has an obligation to uphold the international law protecting cetaceans such as orca and thus it has to do its very best to release the orca back into the wild.
Two important court hearings followed. During the first, which was held on August 3rd 2011, the judge ruled that the responsible Ministry had neglected its obligations on the issue and should do additional research to investigate the possibilities to rehabilitate the orca and set her free. The transport of Morgan to Tenerife was temporarily blocked. However, two weeks after the second hearing, which took place on November 7th 2011, the judge announced in her ruling that the dolphinarium was allowed to move Morgan to Loro Parque. She was transported to the island by aeroplane on November 29th 2011.
Ever since Morgan’s arrival at the marine park, both Loro Parque and the Dutch dolphinarium have been keen to report positively on her progress and general well-being. Independent inspections however have reported a very different story. Pictures started circulating of Morgan with injuries on her fin and head that were caused by the other orcas at Loro Parque. It is clear that her introduction into the new group of wild animals has been anything but easy and more recently video evidence was made public, showing Morgan bullied and attacked by the other orcas.
The Orca Coalition has decided to take the legal action one step further. This year the final hearing in the court case will take place, because the main legal question at the core of this case still hasn’t been answered: if the Ministry is legally obliged, by international law, to do her very best to release this orca back into the wild, why has this not been done?
The exact outcome of the case will be hard to predict. However, it could have far-reaching implications for other orca and cetaceans that might strand in future. This case is unique because never has an authority been pushed this far to live up to its promises when it comes to enforcing international conservation regulations protecting an endangered orca.
During the last hearing, the judge only focused her line of questioning on what was the best short-term solution for orca Morgan, since all parties agreed that the small tank she was held in up until then was highly unsuitable. In the verdict the judge specifically said that although Morgan would be transported to Loro Parque, this did not mean she could not be released at a later date. Of course we believe this is a very unrealistic position but it does open up possibilities in the appeal case.
We expect the final hearing of the court case this year, and we hope that the verdict, in accordance with international law, will underline that the responsible Ministry has the legal obligation to do all within its power to release orca Morgan back into the wild. We are confident that our current legal steps are an important catalyst for the protection of all cetaceans as it has the potential to set legal precedent in similar future cases where other unfortunate animals might find themselves stranded too. With the right decision in this case, we can ensure the right decisions will be made in other cases to come.
Thanks to your support in the first round of court hearings we managed to secure the first ever court ruling blocking the transport of a captive killer whale. With your help we can now make an even bigger difference, for Morgan’s future and the lives of many other sea animals. For more information and to see how you can support the case, please visit www.orcacoalition.org
Previous articles: Orca Morgan: the missed opportunity | First victory for orca Morgan! | Urgent appeal for orca Morgan | Legal action started for release orca Morgan | The Black Fish launches orca campaign with coalition