How Did the Orca Morgan Wind Up in The Netherlands in the First Place?

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Morgan was moved to Loro Parque despite the effort to have her freed.

From time to time events seem to fall into place just a little too neatly, into packages that are a bit too tidy. The story of Morgan the orca is one of those, and in the end, when all is said and done, the question remains:  how is it that this young wild orca swam right into a web so conveniently spun by an international consortium of the amusement park industry?
This story starts in late June, 2010.  I was chatting with a new acquaintance, Dr. Astrid van Ginneken, while I put together a plate of cupcakes to send to the Center for Whale Research.  She had just arrived from The Netherlands for her annual summer research at the Center, and Ken Balcomb, the senior research scientist from the Center, had brought her by to see if I wanted to accompany them out to observe the Southern Resident orcas.
Dr. van Ginneken has been coming to the San Juan Islands for years, and as co-principle investigator of The Center for Whale Research she makes an important contribution to the ongoing research there each summer.  I remember distinctly that as I slid my latest culinary cupcake experiments onto a plate I asked her if there were orca populations in The Netherlands, and her response was that it had been decades since an orca had been seen there.
Two days later the announcement came that a young orca had been found in the shallow Wadden Sea bordering The Netherlands.
The irony hit home with me, and when I saw van Ginneken a few days later she had already started efforts to gain access to the whale when she returned home, however it would be a month by time her work at the Center was completed.  By then the orca had been given the name of ‘Morgan” – which is derived from the Welsh and means ‘from the sea’- and the wagons of captivity had circled around her.
Nothing has ever added up about how this whale wound up where she was found.
The more I ponder about how she wound up at the doorstep of a Dutch aquarium that is known to have ties to SeaWorld, the more I question how she got there.
Here are some pertinent facts:

  • On June 23rd, 2010 staff from the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk along with a group known as ‘SOS Dolfijn’ captured the young orca which had been swimming between the resort of Lauwersoog and the island of Ameland in the Wadden Sea, The Netherlands.
  • The last orca to be seen there previously was in 1947.
  • The Harderwijk Dolfinarium has been tied to the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, and has allegedly helped SeaWorld to dodge U.S. law to bring in whales in the past.
  • SOS Dolfijn, which participated in the capture of Morgan, is part of  the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM), founded by the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk in 1972.
  • Even though a U.S. resident, University of Southern Mississippi professor Dr. Stan Kuczaj is currently serving on the EAAM research board.  Kuczaj has co-authored with SeaWorld several papers on the benefits of using captive cetaceans for research.  He is also on the Advisory Group to the Florida based  Marine Mammal Conservancy (along with ex-SeaWorld employee Mark Simmons)- the group who recently rescued pilot whales in south Florida, the survivors of which landed in a tank in SeaWorld, Orlando.  Kuczaj is the director of The Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi in the Department of Psychology.
  • As previously reported, SeaWorld is owned by the Blackstone Group which is invested in marine amusement parks throughout Europe. The Harderwijk Dolphinarium is also owned by a conglomerate that operates marine parks and other leisure facilities in several European countries. Together with Marineland, those corporations have a significant presence in the European marine mammal trade.
  • In Lisbon in March of 2010, EAAM partnered with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and agreed to a “memorandum of understanding” designed to facilitate issues with captive marine mammals.  Instrumental in this was Niels van Elk of the Harderwijk Dolfinarium.
  • The research committee for this conference was composed of Stan Kuczaj, Sabrina Brando – who among other things worked as a marine mammal care specialist at the Dolfinarium Harderwijk between 1992 and 1994 – and Manuel G. Hartmann, a veterinarian at Marineland Antibes who specializes as a vet for stranded whales and dolphins, and who also has ties to organizations involved with marine mammals in The Netherlands.

The upshot of this is that by mid March 2010 – quite coincidentally – all circuits were wired to ensure that any marine mammal that needed to be ‘rescued’ would be netted into this conglomerate power base.  Although taking place in Europe, SeaWorld and other U.S. interests are deeply involved.
Three months later, in June 2010, the young female orca Morgan  happened to wander a thousand miles from where scientists believe her family lives, into waters where orcas are extremely rare.  She just about swam right up to the Harderwijk Dolfinarium.
How she got separated from her family is a mystery, and why she turned up in the Wadden Sea is curious, but hopefully someday she will be reunited with her wild family.
I’m still trying to determine who is responsible for overseeing the captive industry in Europe, and will let you know when that information is available.

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