Freedom Denied: Dutch Court Condemns Morgan the Orca to Continued Captivity

The legal effort to free a young killer whale from captivity fails for now.

(Photo: Marten van Dijl/AFP/Getty Images)

Apr 24, 2014· 1 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

A court in the Netherlands Wednesday upheld a 2011 decision to transfer Morgan, a female orca rescued in a stranding off the Dutch coast, to an entertainment park in the Canary Islands, Spain, where she will remain indefinitely.

Two animal welfare groups, Dolphinmotion and Sea First, had filed suit in the Council of State, an independent administrative court, seeking to overturn the Dutch minister for agriculture's November 2011 decision to send Morgan to the Loro Parque theme park and release her instead.

But the council, claiming there were no viable options for Morgan, said the orca should remain in Spain, writing that “returning the killer whale to the ocean, as proposed by the animal welfare groups in the Morgan Release Plan, was found not to be an alternative, satisfactory solution because Morgan's native pod had not been found and she belonged to a population with a highly complex social structure.”

The council added that Loro Parque “has a long history of keeping killer whales and conducts various research and educational activities.” But critics note that orcas have only been at the park for six years, and that no published studies on killer whales have been conducted there.

Morgan was found alone and hungry in the Wadden Sea in 2010. She was sent to a dolphinarium in Harderwijk, the Netherlands, for rehabilitation. Activists almost immediately began campaigning to return Morgan to the sea.

But she remained in Holland, in a tiny glass tank in which she could barely turn around, until the following year, when she was flown to Loro Parque, where five orcas on a “breeding loan” from SeaWorld were housed.

Activists contend that Morgan should be living in the ocean, not only because she was born there but because conditions at Loro Parque are subpar. They say Morgan is harassed and assaulted by other whales in the park’s tanks, the scene of the brutal killing of a Spanish trainer in 2009 by the orca Keto.

Last June, a 10-month-old female killer whale named Victoria died at the park. She had been rejected by her mother, Kohana, a young orca who was ripped from her own mother’s side at just 19 months and eventually shipped off to Spain.

But the council was unmoved by reports of conditions at Loro Parque. “Today’s verdict only dealt with the validity of the export license,” its statement said. “Morgan's present state of health was not the subject of the legal proceedings.”