It is time to free Morgan the Orca

Three years ago, a young female orca named Morgan became a pawn in the illicit world of captivity, writes activist Matthew Spiegl, in an open letter to the Dutch parliament.

On December 3, 2013 the High Court in Den Haag will once again review the case of Morgan the Orca, found off the Dutch coast and now housed in a Spanish amusement park. But why does this issue have to be resolved by the court at all?

The Dutch Parliament has it within its power to act in the best interest of Morgan, to undo the mistake of the previous Government, and direct that she be moved to a sea pen and held in public trust for the good of all, in the hope she can one day be returned to the sea.

Despite the perceived protections of the CITES framework, Morgan has been moved, traded and sold without transparency – without disclosure of true motive and intent – and without an honest discussion of who owns her.

This has all occurred under the jurisdiction, the supervision and knowledge of the Dutch Government. But is the end result – the predicament that Morgan finds herself in – really what the Government intended?

Would full disclosure of the facts, if they had been known, have changed the outcome of the decision by former Minister Bleker, two years ago?

If the Dolfinarium, Loro Parque and SeaWorld had been truthful and forthcoming in the CITES application and the subsequent court proceedings, and revealed that Morgan was to become the commercial property of SeaWorld as a consequence, would that have changed the decision that led to Morgan’s transfer to Loro Parque?

Before the CITES permit to transfer Morgan from the Dolfinarium to Loro Parque was issued on July 27, 2011, the Dolfinarium and SeaWorld had already engaged in discussions about the sale of Morgan to SeaWorld – an obvious commercial transaction and one which raises the appearance of impropriety and calls into question the objectivity of the Dolfinarium in considering attempts to release Morgan into a sea pen, or the open sea.

On July 19, 2011 it was reported in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is attempting to acquire a young female killer whale rescued off the coast of the Netherlands last year. The article emphasised that SeaWorld would not say whether it will pay any compensation – in the form of money or other animals – to Dolfinarium in exchange for Morgan. Then on November 29, 2011 the headline read Rescued Dutch killer whale now part of SeaWorld’s corporate collection.

How did this happen? How could SeaWorld become the legal owner of Morgan, and how could the Dolfinarium apply for and receive a CITES transfer permit from the Dutch Government to send her to Loro Parque without making any disclosure of this?

The documents filed by SeaWorld in preparation for the public sale of its stock, particularly the correspondence dated February  27, 2013; March 25, 2013; April 4, 2013; April 8, 2013; along with the third amended Form S-1 registration statement, establish that SeaWorld believes it is the owner of Morgan; that SeaWorld is ‘loaning’ Morgan to Loro Parque; and that Loro Parque is paying money to SeaWorld for the privilege of keeping Morgan in the Loro Parque tanks and performing in the Loro Parque shows.

But was that really the intent of the Dutch Government when they issued the permit to the Dolfinarium?

I understand that Parliament is discussing a new cetacean stranding protocol that may help prevent something like this from happening in the future, but we can’t just close our eyes and ignore the present.

I also believe knowing how we got to this point matters, and I hope you agree that it is imperative that the Dutch Government – that Parliament – ask itself about the future it wishes for Morgan.

The new documentary Blackfish chronicles another SeaWorld orca, Tilikum, and gives us a glimpse into this socially unacceptable and dying industry and the sad, pathetic future that awaits Morgan if something is not done to save her from the same fate.

The Blackfish documentary also took a critical look at Loro Parque and the film’s director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, told me this: Blackfish tracks the story of Tilikum, but I’m aware of Morgan’s story too. In order for people to understand what’s happening to her in Loro Parque they need to know how she got there and why she’s so valuable.

The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation is still the issuing CITES management authority and can – if it has the will to do so – recall Morgan from Loro Parque if the conditions there place Morgan at risk, which appears to be the case.

Morgan should not be confined to a concrete tank for the rest of her life, and the debate about her should not be confined to the pages of a legal brief or the formalities of a lengthy court proceeding or even the political procedural process of Parliament.

The debate about Morgan must be led by the people of the Netherlands – in the name of humanity – and on behalf of us all.

Morgan’s right to be free must be shouted out at the top of our voices and from the depth of our hearts, with the same passion and conviction as a mother protecting her child.

When Morgan was taken from the Wadden Sea, she became a child of the Netherlands, a ward of the Dutch people to be held in public trust by the Dutch Government until she could be released back to the sea, to rejoin her real mother.

All the world is watching, all the world is waiting, all the world knows that the fate of Morgan can change this world forever and make it a better place for all.

Please raise your voice in parliament, ask the questions that must be asked and demand the answers that must be given.

It is time to Free Morgan


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