A Dutch judge has ruled that a rescued killer whale can be sent to a Canary Islands amusement park, despite pleas to release the animal into the wild.
The case of Morgan the orca sharply divided opinion in the Netherlands.
The orca was rescued by a dolphinarium in Harderwijk after being found exhausted and starving in shallow waters in the Waddenzee in June 2010.
Conservationists are devastated by Monday’s ruling, fearing the move to the Canaries will kill Morgan.
The judge in Amsterdam decided however that the orca would have no reasonable chance of survival in the wild.
The plan is to transfer Morgan within days to Loro Parque on Tenerife, where she will join five other orcas in a big tank, on show to the public.
Ahead of the judge’s ruling the campaign website of the Free Morgan Foundation had been getting more than 50,000 hits a day.
Niels van Elk, a vet who has been working at the dolphinarium for 13 years, thinks Morgan will be better off in captivity than in the wild.
“The theme park is the best option for her because that is where she can live in a group and that is the best we can offer her,” he says.
“We as humans should not pretend that we can replace the challenges and the satisfaction that a group of killer whales can give. It is an artificial environment, it’s a different life but it’s a good life all the same.”
But the Free Morgan campaigners disagree. Thousands, including Dutch supermodels and American philanthropists, signed up to support the campaigners battling to give Morgan back her freedom.
These scientists and orca experts filed a lawsuit, hoping to block the dolphinarium’s plan to send Morgan to the Canaries.
According to their research, freedom is the only real option.
Marine biologist Lara Pozzato says the tourist attraction “is an artificial environment, a small tank made of concrete.
“Loro Parque is already overcrowded with four adult orcas plus a calf. They are forced to perform four times a day. These animals are used for profit – they are slaves for entertainment.”
Finding new friends
According to the campaigners’ statistics, a female orca can live up to 90 years. In captivity life expectancy for orcas is around 20 years.
Sending an orca out on her own is not a simple solution. The popular 1993 movie Free Willy told the tale of a captive orca whale that once released into the ocean was unable to survive.
Orcas are sociable creatures that travel with their pods for life.
For Morgan to be accepted into a group of orcas they have to be able to communicate. Although the scientists found possible matches for Morgan just off the coast of Norway they do not know if she would be welcome in the group.
The campaigners proposed teaching Morgan how to adjust to freedom and planned to help her find new friends, by taking her on “sea walks” to meet other orcas. She would live in a sea pen during the transition to a wild state.