Morgan is a young female orca who was captured from the wild off the coast of the Netherlands in June 2010 when she was observed to be in some distress. She was rescued from probable death by the captive dolphin facility, Dolfinarium Harderwijk, under a ‘rescue, rehabilitation and release’ permit. We now ask the question; 'Were there plans for Morgan other than her rehabilitation for release?' Morgan has remained in captivity ever since.
Morgan, who was subsequently moved to Loro Parque in Tenerife in November 2011, now performs to the public in daily shows and has to contend with the cramped conditions and hostile tank companions. The Free Morgan Foundation, and other organisations including the Born Free Foundation, are seeking the opportunity for Morgan to enter a rehabilitation programme in an effort to see if she can be released back to the wild and ultimately reunited with members of her extended family.
Morgan is the first orca taken into captivity from the wild in more than 20 years. This means that her new ‘bloodline’ is potentially highly attractive to the captivity industry, and her introduction to the captive population could help to avert their problem of having increasingly inbred orca. Instead of enlisting Morgan into a programme of rehabilitation for eventual release, the Dutch dolphinarium claimed her to be ‘institutionalised’ and, therefore, unfit for release. She remained at Dolfinarium Harderwijk, displayed within a small, featureless tank for 17 months.
The Dolfinarium ignored repeated proposals for a phased rehabilitation and release plan in Norway, where Morgan is believed to have originated from. Instead, Morgan's fate was decided by the Dutch courts, in a case that resulted in her shipment, not to Norway for an eventual release, but to another marine park, Loro Parque in Tenerife. This is a theme park and zoo that displays thousands of wild animals to the public, including five other orca, which are reportedly on loan from SeaWorld.
Morgan, having arrived at Loro Parque in 2011, now performs in their shows. She is housed with other orca, who were captive-bred in the SeaWorld parks in the USA, but relations between them have been described as hostile and aggressive, with unrelated individuals fighting to assert dominance. It has been documented that Morgan has suffered over 600 bite marks and she shows severe stereotypies (abnormal, repetitive behaviours), including self-inflicted damage to her rostrum (tip of her snout) and lower jaws from repeatedly banging her head on the sides of the concrete tank. Photographic evidence indicates that she has also ground some of her teeth down to the gums and continues to damage her other teeth - a likely result of the stress she is under.
Keen to secure Morgan’s release, the Free Morgan Foundation appealed the Dutch Court’s decision to send Morgan to Tenerife. This was eventually heard at the High Court, Den Hague in the Netherlands on 3rd December 2013.
The verdict was finally released on 23rd April 2014, which stated that the then Dutch Minister for Agriculture had acted lawfully in granting permission for Morgan to be transferred to the captivity facility in Tenerife. The court did not rule on issues regarding her welfare. This is despite proposals from experts outlining plans for her rehabilitation and release back to the wild.
Will Travers OBE, President of the Born Free Foundation, said, “The Dutch court may have deemed Morgan’s capture from the sea and transfer to a lifetime in captivity ‘lawful’ but that does not make it right. The decision flies in the face of natural justice which would surely conclude that, having been returned to a degree of health, Morgan should, as the terms of her capture permit stated, have been returned to the wild. Instead she seems condemned to a life of deprivation and confinement, far from her ocean home.”
The Free Morgan campaign, led by Dr Ingrid Visser, has never given up on Morgan and, working with experts, has developed a plan that could give her the chance to be free again. The benefit of any doubt should rest with Morgan.’
The Born Free Foundation fundamentally believes that marine mammals should not be kept in captivity and we support plans for Morgan's rehabilitation and possible release back to the wild, where she belongs.
Find out more about captive whales and dolphins here
Stop press: The verdict is in, and it's not good news. Read Born Free's President, Will Travers', opinion here.