photo credit WDCS
A little girl is found lost and starving in an unfamiliar place. The people who find her take pity on her, and take her back to their home to look over her, nurse her back to health and try to find her family. Time passes and the little girl is doing great and is ready to go home, but the people who found her change their minds. They decide to sell her into a circus and lifelong slavery instead. She will never see her family again.
Is this story any less shocking because it's about a whale?
Killer whales, or orcas, are one of the most intelligent species in the world. They are known to mimic behaviors they have observed, problem solve, and even pass down skills to their young such as difficult hunting techniques. This is all in the wild – by the way. Unfortunately, this combined with their striking black and white appearance makes them very attractive to marine parks such as Sea World, which is famous for its captive orcas. Killer whales also have some of the most stable social structures in the animal kingdom, comparable only to elephants and primates (which include humans). Orcas in the wild have been known to stay with their matrilineal families for their entire lives, which can be up to 90 years. Because of these close familial bonds, marine mammal experts are concerned that keeping orcas in captivity is inherently inhumane. The average lifespan of an orca in captivity is eight years.
Morgan was found in June 2010 off the coast of the Netherlands – lost, starving and dehydrated. She was not stranded, she was swimming, and so she had to be captured by staff from the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk. This is the first sketchy point...when a dolphinarium sees a young female cetacean, they see dollar signs (Euro signs, I suppose in this case). The Harderwijk Dolfinarium has ties to the dolphin slaughter and trade in Taiji, Japan; and also to SeaWorld, owned by the Blackstone Group, which is invested in marine amusement parks across Europe and therefore has a considerable interest in the marine mammal trade.
Through this teamwork and a certain amount of comittee-forming, arguable research papers, and commercial interest...
"...By mid March 2010, all circuits were wired to ensure that any marine mammal that needed to be ‘rescued’ would be netted into this conglomerate power base. Although taking place in Europe, SeaWorld and other U.S. interests are deeply involved."
Morgan was captured and rescued under the conditions that she would not be displayed to the public and would be returned to the wild post-rehabilitation. Despite this, the Harderwijk Dolfinarium put her on display only two months after her arrival. The Free Morgan Group presented the argument to the dolphinarium that Morgan was an excellent candidate for release after rehabilitation in that she is young, has not been in captivity for a very long time and her native population had been traced. Morgan is believed to belong to the Norwegian fish-eating orca community based on DNA and call structures. Her release is more likely to succeed due to the fact that this population demonstrates communal care for young. She may, however, not be accepted by a pod which will mean she will not be looked after. Her young age may also mean that she does not know her family's full geographical range and therefore may not be able to find them. The Free Morgan Group has considered this, and has come up with a "soft-release" program in which Morgan would be able to gradually build up stamina and knowledge of her habitat by being systematically re-introduced to different aspects of the area over the course of time. This is similar to the program that Keiko – star of Free Willy – followed, which was partially successful. On Morgan's side is that she has not spent nearly as much time with humans as Keiko had. Another orca called Springer-Springer has been reintroduced using similar steps as well. She was found in a comparable state to Morgan, lost and emaciated. She was successfully nursed back to health in a sea pen and was reintegrated with a local pod which she still lives with today. Even if Morgan was not able to find her family, the case of Luna, a young male orca, demonstrates that stranded orcas can be released again and survive successfully on their own.
Despite this, Harderwijk Dolfinarium argued that Morgan was not eligible for release and made no attempts towards any rehabilitation steps. The Free Morgan Group's report was ignored and was not even mentioned in the dolphinarium’s reports.
On 29 November 2011, Morgan was transferred to Loro Parque in Tenerife, despite a legal case against the Harderwijk Dolfinarium and against the advisement of many cetacean experts.
The case of Morgan is especially sad because it may set the tone for future rescued cetaceans. The captivity industry has come under fire recently after the death of Dawn Brancheau, a Sea World trainer killed by the orca Tilikum. The Morgan case shows that captive marine mammal facilities and business conglomerates still have a lot of power and are still reluctant to choose what's right over what's profitable.
From the Marine Connection "Free Morgan" website:
"Morgan does NOT belong in captivity. Born the wild, she doesn’t belong to a private company which sells tickets to see her – she belongs in the ocean. Anyone who cares about the future of this young animal and for all wild-born orcas should insist that Morgan be returned to her ocean home."
What can you do to help Morgan?
DON'T BUY A TICKET to Loro Parque or similar marine theme parks that have captive marine mammals.
EDUCATE YOURSELF on the current issues in marine mammal captivity.
SPREAD THE WORD about the fair treatment of animals and that taking wild creatures into captivity is inherently wrong.
JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TO MAKE SURE THIS NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. Keep Morgan in mind and fight for the freedom of future cetacean rescue cases.