Recently, heart-wrenching footage of an orca whale beaching herself after a performance at Loro Parque in the Carnary Islands caused outrage across the Internet, with many demanding the killer whale be freed. That whale is named Morgan, and her fight for freedom started long before footage of her sad, captive life surfaced.
According to the Free Morgan Foundation, Morgan, who is on breeding loan to Loro Parque from SeaWorld, was once a free whale. In 2010 the wild, young female orca was found swimming in the waters around the Netherlands, extremely emaciated. A local theme park called Dolfinarium Harderwijk captured the whale as part of a “rescue, rehabilitation and release” permit from the Dutch government.
The park did bring Morgan back to a healthy body weight, but it refused to follow through on the rest of the plan. Instead of releasing the healthy whale back into the wild, for 18 months the park kept Morgan captive, teaching her institutionalized behaviors and forcing her to learn tricks, all while she was locked in a tiny tank. In protest to this breach, a group of Dutch non-government organizations banded together to form the Orca Coalition and take the theme park and Dutch government to court for the permit violation.
Unfortunately, the courts failed Morgan too. Amidst protest from multiple orca experts, the animal was stripped of any legal rights and shipped off to Loro Parque in Spain, where she routinely shows signs of stress and depression.
But the world has not forgotten about the wrongs against Morgan, the Free Morgan Foundation — which includes the organizations of Orcalab, Orca Network, Orca Research Trust, Centre for Whale Research, Project SeaWolf Coastal Protection, Cetacean Society International, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island — is continuing to work for the whale’s freedom, collecting footage of her abuse and campaigning with the government and courts for her release. In 2011, the foundation put together an in-depth plan, reviewed by experts and based on the successful releases of other animals, on how Morgan can be safely reintegrated into the wild, but it continues to be ignored.
So, in hopes of getting Morgan international attention and support, the Free Morgan Foundation and the Dolphin Project continue to share videos of the orca being bullied by larger whales, ramming herself against her cage and being forced to do tricks for food.
It has been five years since Morgan was taken from her home as a “rescue mission,” and the Free Morgan Foundation is fighting to make sure her captivity doesn’t go a day longer. The group is also working to set up Morgan’s Law, “a call on the international community to adopt a uniform set of laws and regulations to ensure that nothing like the series of events in Morgan’s case ever happen again.”
Sadly, it looks like Morgan’s story is being repeated. During its research, the foundation found at least 13 other instances of theme parks laundering sea creatures by saying they are rehabilitating and releasing the injured wild animals — but then keeping them as entertainment assets instead.
You can donate to Morgan’s cause and learn more about the beautiful animal that is being kept imprisoned by visiting the Free Morgan Foundation.