Morgan - A suitable candidate for rehabilitation and release?

Free Morgan!
Free Morgan! (Photo credit: wietse?)

On 23 June 2010 a young killer whale was reported to be swimming in the Dutch Wadden Sea; a rare event for this species with the last stranding in Dutch waters in 1963. 

Some interesting information from the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID Project HERE.

The animal was monitored and it became clear the animal was in some distress and with the permission of the Dutch government the cetacean rescue foundation SOS Delfijn and employees from Dolfinarium Harderwijk rescued the animal and took it to a temporary holding pool at Harderwijk for assessment and treatment.

Morgan, as the female whale was to be called, was clearly malnourished when it arrived with her weight around 430 pounds. However, there were no sign of any actuate disease. She was monitored and medical parameters such a blood chemistry were measured. She progressed well and was found to be more than a 1000 kgs in weight when weighed in March 2011. 

With other cetaceans such as harbour porpoise SOS Delfijn would have endeavoured to have released these animals (if considered fit) back to the wild. However, with a killer whale this is more problematic as these animals appear to have close social bonds unlike some other species like the porpoise or bottlenose dolphins whose grouping are subject to social change; a phenomena sometimes referred to as a fission-fusion society. Moreover, generally speaking, rescued and rehabilitated animals should be return to an area considered to be part of their home range which could be an area near to where they were originally stranded. In Morgan's case there was no precise information as to where she came from although research from the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID Project who were contacted by Harderwijk believed she may have originated from herring eating killer whales from Norway.

Harderwijk's page on Morgan can be found HERE.

Harderwijk then commissioned a report from wildlife experts on the best possible course of action to be taken as regards Morgan's future welfare. 

This report is linked below:

Expert advice on the releasability of the rescued killer whale (Orcinus orca) Morgan

The report concluded that for a number reasons Morgan was not a suitable candidate for release and therefore a proper location and setting for keeping her under human care had to be arranged.
However, during this time a number of animal-rights factions and groups began to take an interest in Morgan and set-up a campaign to obtain this animal for an experimental release project back to the wild. They published their own report into the matter. 

This report is linked below: 

Suggestions for returning “Morgan” the orca (killer whale) to a natural life in the ocean

The various groups then employed the service of a scientist who had studied wild killer whales in New Zealand Dr. Ingrid Visser who along with Terry Hardie a member of the Orca Research Trust produced a second report on releasing Morgan. 

This report can be found here:

“Morgan” the orca can and should be rehabilitated: With additional notes on why a transfer to another ‘captive orca 4 facility’ is inappropriate and release is preferred.

In early July 2011 Harderwijk announced that Morgan would be moved to join a group of captive bred killer whales at Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain and was given a permit to export from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. However, The Orca Coalition together with Dr. Visser, went to the Dutch courts and managed to have the proposed export of Morgan to Loro Parque in Tenerife blocked. The judge ruled that the Ministry needed to do more independent investigation as to the best outcome for the welfare of Morgan.

On 11 October 2011 Dutch government Agriculture Secretary Henk Bleker ruled that Morgan's chances of survival in the wild were too small and approved the transfer to Loro Parque.

Despite this The Orca Coalition again tried to block Morgan's move to Loro Parque and an appeal was heard in the Dutch courts on the 7 November 2011. The judge gave a written verdict on the case on 21 November and sanctioned that Morgan should be moved Loro Parque.
Morgan was transported from Harderwijk to Loro Park on the morning of 29 November 2011 and arrived safely and was intergated into the resident pod of whales at the park. 

Despite Morgan's move the animal-rights groups led by The Orca Coalition filed yet another appeal in the Dutch courts due to be heard possibly in August 2012. The basic thrust of the appeal was again to try and obtain Morgan for a release experiment and moreover to stop further rescues of animals such as killer whales within Dutch waters by projects such as SOS Delfijn and Harderwijk. They also stated on their web page that Morgan probably should have not been taken from the sea according to international regulations. This despite the fact that SOS Delfijn do return all animals deemed fit with a good chance of survival back to the wild environment and and that clearly if Morgan had been left in the wild she would have died.

On 24 May 2012 a news release from Loro Parque stated that they believed Morgan may well be deaf due to her behaviour during training and her response to audio cues. The park stated it would conduct tests on the animal in due course.

This news was received by The Orca Coalition and it's supporters with derision stating that this was a plot to retain the animal and that the park and it associates where worried about loosing the up and coming appeal in the Dutch courts. They supported this statement by pointing out that in a report published in November 2010 by Harderwijk it stated:
"Should Morgan be deaf, or otherwise be physically or socially unable to team up with conspecifics, it would be unfeasible to set her free, hoping she might find back and subsequently live with her natal pod."
They further supported their position by citing the case of Sully a pilot whale that standard July 14, 2009 in the island of CuraƧao, Netherlands Antilles and was rehabilitated by the Southern Caribbean Cetacean Network (SCCN) conservation group . They maintained that no real efforts where made to release this animal and that it was always destined to go to a marine park. This was regardless of the actual fact that a sustained effort was made to try and release Sully back to the wild. Video HERE

Sully was eventually rehomed with other pilot whales at Sea World in California in January 2010 and tests relived the animal did have impared hearing loss. Sully died at the park on 26 May 2012 as a result of on-going health issues related to his original stranding.

Loro Parque's Orca Show
Loro Parque's Orca Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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