Thursday 13 November saw the yet another judgement from the Dutch courts on the fate of the young, female killer whale “Morgan” who stranded on the Dutch coast in June 2010 and was rehabilitated by the group SOS Delfijn and employees from Dolfinarium Harderwijk. The animal was deemed unsuitable for release and was moved to live with a group of other killer whales at Loro Park Tenerife, Spain in November 2011.
The recent hearing stated that the permit to move “Morgan” should only be issued if the goal was research or teaching. The judgment conclude that the park on Tenerife conducts research and performs an educational function and therefore the whales move was legal.
The court further saw no reason to believe that the welfare of Morgan danger in Tenerife. If The Orca Coalition disagree they are open to take legal action in a Spanish court.
Details of the background of this case can be found HERE
This current judgement is the latest litigation brought by The Orca Coalition a group of animal-rights activists including the Free Morgan Foundation who -along with their supporter Dr. Ingrid Visser - wish to obtain this animal for a reintroduction experiment in Norway.
Dr Visser has been for sometime an active critic of the care of cetaceans in zoos and aquaria particularly killer whales. Whilst she has researched killer whales in the wild and was founder of the New Zealand based Orca Research Trust, she was also a Plaintiffs Next Friend in the infamous law-suit in October 2011 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) against Sea World theme parks; a case which citing slavery and involuntary servitude under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States for five killer whales display at the parks. The law suit failed and was subsequently dismissed.
Ironically, Visser is now herself a possible recipient of legal action due various statements she made against those currently housing and caring for “Morgan” the killer whale in the above cited court hearing.
On the 10 December Dr Visser revealed in an article published in the Digital Journal that she had been threaten with legal action regarding her claims of aberrant behaviour and mistreatment of “Morgan” by Loro Park. She stated that this was emailed to her on 30 October prior the appearance at the most recent court hearing on 1 November 2012 to which this current judgement relates.
The Digital Journal article was penned by Elizabeth Batt who along with writers such as David Kirby and Tim Zimmerman have been active in promoting the activities of various animal-rights groups and individuals opposed to the display of cetaceans in zoos and aquaria. Interestingly, Zimmerman’s web site was allegedly cited in the threatened legal action as a media outlet used by Visser.
This current development does beg some serious questions however as to the timing and motives of this revelation. Primarily, why was Visser’s dramatic statement not presented at the time of the formal hearing on 1 November either in court or as a press release? Rather than released via a sympathetic journalist to the public weeks later and a days prior the publishing of the judges ruling on “Morgan” and her welfare. It could be suggested this was undertaken for maximum publicly value not the fear of litigation.
The Orca Coalition could, of couse, counter such suggestions by raising the same kind of criticism with the Loro Park and their supporters as to the issue of “Morgan’s” alleged hearing impairment and possible deafness which was officially announced on 15 November 2012.
The Orca Coalition position on this was predictable. It claimed this was just a ploy by the park and:
“another attempt by the commercial industry to keep the valuable animal in their possession”.It also questioned the independence of the scientists undertaken the testing further stating:
“the commercial industry itself selected and hired the scientists for the scientific research, and once again the specialized and experienced scientists of the Free Morgan Foundation are excluded. The involved researchers, who have examined whether Morgan is deaf, also have ties with the Dolphinarium and Sea World.”Although looking at the experts listed by the Coalition none have specific skills in the hearing assessment of cetaceans and in point of fact neither does Loro Park which is why they called in independent experts to undertake these tests.
The specialist used by Loro Park to test the killer whales hearing were from the Netherlands Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Study (IMARES), the National Foundation for Marine Mammals of the U.S.A., and the Office of Naval Research for the U.S. Armed Forces (U.S. Navy).
Details of the hearing tests at Loro Park HERE
The researchers involved included:
Dr Dorian S. Houser: Director of Biological and Bioacoustical Research for the The National Marine Mammal Foundation who won the Acoustical Society of America’s 2007 R. Bruce Lindsay Award for his contributions to animal bioacoustics and to understanding echolocation and hearing by dolphins. Dr Houser’s work has been used (among other things) to ascertain hearing abilities of stranded marine mammals with a view to their suitably to be successful release back to the wild after rehabilitation by groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Cape Cod standing network and The Marine Mammal Centre, Califorina. A useful overview of some of Dr Houser’s work can be found in this video presented at the SCMM 2011 Workshop.
Dr. Klaus Lucke: has been involved and published research on anthropogenic (human-caused) noise and it’s affects on cetaceans and his work has involved both wild and captive animals. He was appointed in 2000 to the International Advisory Panel of Experts on Marine Ecology (IAPEME) Danish Energy Authority to comment on the environmental monitoring programme on the observed impacts of the wind farms on birds, mammals, fish and benthos ecosystems. He was an invited speaker papers Electrophysiological Measures of Hearing in Marine Mammals at the 2006 European Cetacean Society (ECS) Conference in Gdynia presenting a paper on measuring hearing of cetaceans and pinnipeds.
Reviewing the background of the scientists undertaking the tests on “Morgan” and the other whales at Loro Park one can not help think how disingenuous The Orca Coalition is being with it’s comments.
Indeed, both scientist mentioned have worked with captive cetaceans but also extensively with wild animals. Dr Houser has also been involved with hearing assessments of stranded/rehabilitated animals for groups such as IFAW who have a position against the display of cetaceans in zoos and aquariums.
To suggest that such international specialists in their field of cetacean hearing would jeopardise their professional standing to lie about test results to satisfy the Loro Park or any other zoo and aquariums is basically ridiculous and offensive. In point of fact it sadly reveals more about the agenda, credibly and integrity of the The Orca Coalition and Free Morgan Foundation.
So what now for “Morgan”? Clearly as an animal which is either deaf or hearing compromised the option of successful rehabilitation and release to the wild is impossible; dolphins require their hearing to survive in the wild environment not only to hunt but to communicate.
The only option now for “Morgan” is long-term human care or euthanasia.
The Orca Coalition may still campaign for custody of this animal via courts in Spain. To this end, they may wish to place her in an other environment such a sea-pen but unless they can obtain at least one other killer whale for company this would mean isolation for this animal; something both sides in this argument have clearly indicated is not acceptable for the long-term health of this animal. Further, it should be noted that one of the reasons “Morgan” was moved to Loro Park in the first place was so that she could be in the company of other whales.
Assessment of basic audiometric functions in killer whales (Orcinus orca) at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain
Variability in Click-Evoked Potentials in Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) and Determination of a Hearing Impairment in a Rehabilitated Killer Whale (2016) Lucke, Klaus, Finneran, James J., Almunia, Javier, and Houser, Dorian S. Aquatic Mammaals. Volume 42 - Issue 2
More on Morgan HERE