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Young Orca Will Be Transferred to Circus

Judge bows to entertainment interests

Morgan at the Harderwijk Dolphinarium in the Netherlands

This will not be the best holiday weekend for Morgan the orca. On Monday, a judge in the Netherlands ruled that the young killer whale, who was found sick off the coast of the Netherlands last year and taken to a nearby dolphinarium, should be moved to a Spanish amusement park in the Canary Islands, rather than to an ocean sanctuary.

Morgan’s arrival at the amusement park follows a long court dispute between commercial interests and animal protection groups.

Loro Parque, the amusement park where Morgan will now spend the rest of her life in a tank, has close ties to SeaWorld in the United States, which sends orcas, trainers and veterinarians on loan to its transatlantic cousin.

At the court hearings, the sea circus pressed very hard for possession of Morgan, arguing that their interest was to give the whale a better chance, as well as for “educational” purposes – even though there’s barely even a pretense of education at what is simply an amusement facility.

Morgan’s future home in captivity at the Loro Parque marine circus

There were compelling reasons to not send Morgan to Loro Parque, but rather to take her to a coastal sanctuary.

For starters, European wildlife trade rules prohibit the use of orcas for commercial purposes. The only exemptions are for captive breeding for conservation scientific and educational purposes. The Dutch ministry that authorized the move admitted that they had relied on the word of local Spanish authorities that Loro Parque is not purely commercial. But there’s no evidence that Loro Parque provides any education beyond a few handouts and posters. Nor does the sea circus have a conservation program.

Dietrich Jelden, of Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation told the judge, “It is agreed among the European experts that every zoo must be considered a commercial facility, in which research or education in most circumstances has either no or only secondary priority.”

Meanwhile, animal protection groups, led by the Free Morgan Support Group, had located an ideal situation for Morgan: a cove in the Norwegian fishing village of Stø.

The sea pen in Norway that was offered by the Mayor of Stø and the Free Morgan Support Group

The cove would have had a net across its opening to the ocean, and there was a strong possibility that Morgan’s family would have passed by there, enabling her to communicate with her pod and then probably to rejoin them.

“I am very positive about Morgan coming to our community,” the Mayor of Stø said. “I will personally look forward to helping on her road to freedom.”

Villagers had universally expressed delight about hosting Morgan and helping to provide for her.

“It is heart-breaking that Morgan has been sentenced to a life of stress, forced breeding, poor health and social strife, all for profit and crude entertainment.” – Carol Ray, former killer whale trainer

But the judge appears to have bowed to the commercial interests and the promise of “expert” veterinary care SeaWorld-style.

At Loro Parque, once she has been placed on display and trained to perform, Morgan will be worth millions of dollars.

She will also be a major bonus to the breeding programs, not just of that particular marine circus, but also to SeaWorld, as she brings fresh genes to their breeding pool.

Advocates for the Loro Parque transfer said that releasing her would be tantamount to a “death sentence” unless she could be returned to her native pod. But the coastal sanctuary plan never involved dropping her off in the ocean.

Quite the opposite. There’s no evidence that Morgan will be any safer in a tank at Loro Parque than at a coastal sanctuary. Orcas do not do well in captivity.

They also argued that orcas are highly sociable animals and that Morgan would need the company of other killer whales.

But while they are, indeed, social animals, orcas don’t like to socialize outside of their extended family and often have to be kept separate from each other in the claustrophobic confinement of a circus tank.

As an example of what they planned for the young orca, advocates for Morgan told the judge that another orca called Springer, who had a story somewhat similar to that of Morgan and was found off the coast of Washington state in early 2002, was successfully reintroduced to her pod in British Columbia later the same year. There was every reason to believe that Morgan could have been reintroduced, too.

What do you say? Do you think orcas should be kept in captivity at marine circuses? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.

What you can do: The Free Morgan Foundation and the Orca Project are among the many sites with up-to-date news on Morgan. You can also support their work.