Orca Network - Morgan should be a free orca

Morgan should be given a sea-pen and human caretakers, and should not be kept in captivity

Photo by Peter Pijpelink

Please see below for a suggested letter to Dutch officials responsible for deciding Morgan's fate.


CONTACT: Orca Network
Howard Garrett

On December 10, the Dolfinarium Harderwijk in Holland decided that the young female orca Morgan, who has been in their facility since her rescue from the Wadden Sea in June, is not considered, by them, as a suitable candidate for return to her ocean habitat.

The idea of "release" for Morgan has been removed from consideration by the Dolphinarium's experts, because the prospect of finding Morgan's family in the No. Atlantic seems a formidable challenge.

However, none of the experts except Fernando Ugarte thought about the possibility of a sea pen. He wrote:
"If the welfare of the animal is the main priority, the focus should be on finding the best solution for a healthy and active life under human care. A large sea-pen is probably the best option, especially given the large size of adult killer whales.
A perfect sea-pen in the shallow and exposed North Sea would probably require some design involving digging and building structures. There must be plenty of naturally suitable bays and fjords in places such as Scotland, Ireland or Norway."
This sea-pen idea is in our plan on freemorgan.nl, and it should be brought to the attention of the Dutch government that it could be done within a small budget and would be the best possible prospect to give Morgan a healthy life.

As recommended by Fernando Ugarte, a care station in a sea-pen in Norway could be found and used, requiring only a small dock, housing and a small budget for care-takers and fish if needed. Long-term companionship and provisioning, if needed, would probably keep Morgan alert and healthy until such time as she could be taken out to sea. When conditions allow, Morgan could be led out to open seas following a large boat with her caretakers to seek out her social group. If they are not found she could be led back to her care station to try again another day.

This is a bold proposal, especially the part about the long-term companionship, although the reaction to proposing a sea-pen will be to say "Keiko died in bay in Norway." The answer to that is that we propose giving Morgan reliable, daily companionship. Orcas live on trusted relationships, and in the absence of their matrilines, they seem to happily build trusting relationships with humans. The scientific consensus to date has been (and is found in the comments of some of the Dolphinarium's experts) that caretakers must specifically avoid having such a relationship to force the orca to go out and find its own family. I'm proposing that Morgan be offered consistent, engaging human interaction and companionship until such time as she may be led out and is able to find her family. Then it would be her choice to go with the whales or the humans.

This is what we have proposed for Lolita for many years.


For more about Morgan see freemorgan.nl and freemorgan.com and The Orca Project: Dutch Marine Park Says Rescued Juvenile Killer Whale Morgan is Destined for Life in Captivity.

Press release by the advisory group listed below:


The Free Morgan Group is very disappointed to learn of the Dolfinarium Harderwij's decision that the young female orca Morgan, who has been in their facility since her rescue from the Wadden Sea in June, is not considered, by them, as a suitable candidate for return to her ocean habitat.

The Free Morgan Group is comprised of a wide range of experts who have not only extensive experience with wild orca but also, to varying degrees, experience with the release of captive cetaceans. Last month, the Free Morgan Group produced a detailed, multi-stage release plan. This Release Plan includes options for a "half-way-house" scenario as well as full-release feasibility phases.

The Free Morgan Plan was submitted to the Dolfinarium Harderwijk and made available to the public, with the aim of providing legitimate and accurate information as well as well balanced and informed Release Plan options. Additionally it was hoped that such a document would help the Dolfinarium Harderwijk in its decision-making process. Unfortunately, no mention of the plan is made in the report regarding Morgan, prepared by the Dolfinarium Harderwijk, nor is it referred to by any members of their advisory board. The Free Morgan Group considers this to be an important oversight that is detrimental to Morgan's future health and welfare.

The Free Morgan Group respectfully acknowledges the concerns of the "Seven Experts" who were called upon by the Dolfinarium Harderwijk and the Netherlands Government to provide their opinions as to the feasibility of the release of Morgan. However, we feel that they may not have been provided with all the necessary and relevant information, much of which is identified in our Free Morgan Release Plan.

The Free Morgan Group continues to call for Morgan to be released from the concrete tank and be given the chance to undergo rehabilitation with the possibility of a return to the wild. A semi-natural site has been identified at Delta Park Neeltje Jans in the Netherlands, that would offer Morgan a much larger enclosure in a sea-water environment with a natural benthos. This site would also provide Morgan with a better chance to recover her health and a return to natural behavior that would prepare her for a possible return to the wild. Without this opportunity, the historical records show that Morgan's confinement in captivity will be detrimental to her long-term health and survival. Orca life expectancy in captivity is much lower than for their wild counterparts. In the wild, female orcas such as Morgan survive an average 50 years and up to 80 or more years and by doing so contribute to the continuity and survival of their orca community. Wild female orcas, like Morgan, might be expected to raise 1 to 4 offspring during their lifetime.

We noted that experts identified Morgan as most-likely originating from a population of orcas who hunt the Norwegian Spring Spawning herring. As more research is carried out every year into orca populations in the North Atlantic, it is possible that Morgan's family may be identified in the near future. It would be tragic, for Morgan, her family and community, and for wild orca research, if Morgan was conditioned solely for captivity in an enclosed artificial facility and the door literally shut forever on any chance for her return to the wild and reunion with her family.

The Free Morgan Group strongly urges the Dolfinarium Harderwijk not to keep Morgan in their concrete tank or transfer her to another captive situation, but to give her the chance to live a more natural life in a sea pen, keeping open the possibility of her much hoped-for return to the wild.

The Free Morgan Release Plan is endorsed by the following individuals (in no particular order)

Ingrid Visser & Terry Hardie
Orca Research Trust

Howard Garrett & Susan Berta
Orca Network

Paul Spong & Helena Symonds
OrcaLab Pacific Orca Society

Kenneth Balcomb
Center for Whale Research

William Rossiter
Cetacean Society International

Michael Kundu & Bob MCLaughlin
Project SeaWolf Coastal Protection

Mark Berman
International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island

Free Willy Keiko Foundation

Christopher Porter
Free the Pod

Robin Baird
Cascadia Research Collective

Cathy Williamson
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

Lara Pozzato
Peter Pijpelink
Jan van Twillert
Norma Koning

Below is a suggested letter to copy, embellish or edit, and send to the Dutch government to request that Morgan be relocated to a sea-pen in Norway to be cared for until the opportunity arises to take her out on boat-follow exercises to find her family.

Please contact the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture, and Innovation, which is the government agency responsible for Morgan, at:

You can also contact the Dutch Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Click HERE for a link to a listing of Dutch embassies and consulates.

Here is a sample letter to the Dutch Government:

Mr. Maxime Verhagen
Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation

Dr. Henk Bleker (State Secretary)
Minister for Agriculture and Foreign Trade

Ministerie van LNV
Postbus 20401
2500 EK Den Haag, Netherlands
tel: + 31 77 465 6767

Dear ____________;

I am writing to express my concern for the young orca, Morgan, who was captured and brought to the Harderwijk Dolfinarium in June, 2010. My understanding is that the Dolfinarium was granted a permit to rehabilitate Morgan on the condition that they would then release her. But the decision by the Dolfinarium is to send Morgan to a marine park and a life of permanent captivity.

A concrete tank is no place for a wild animal who can swim more than 100 km per day. Captive orcas do not live as long as they do in the wild. They often develop physical and psychological problems in captivity, making them dangerous to work with. For example, two trainers were killed by captive orcas during the winter of 2009-2010 at Loro Parque in Tenerife and at SeaWorld in Orlando. Orcas don't belong in captivity.

The recent recommendation by the Harderwijk Dolfinarium completely ignores the animal welfare issues associated with keeping orcas in captivity.

Morgan should first be relocated to Delta Park Neeltje Jans in the Netherlands, for further rehabilitation in a much larger, natural seawater enclosure where she can pursue and catch live fish. Thereafter, she should be transported to a sea-pen in Norway, to be given daily companionship and such care as needed. Eventually, as conditions allow, she could be taken out on boat-follow exercises to the North Sea to see if she will merge with wild orcas. If she does not, she could be led back to the sea-pen for further care and companionship until the next opportunity to seek compatible orca groups in the wild. Orca experts ready to assist with a relocation, sea-pen and boat-follow exercises. Fernando Ugarte recommends a similar solution in his comments as a member of the panel of experts selected by the Dolfinarium, and it also ignores the stresses and poor health often found in captive orcas.

The Dolfinarium's report ignores any possible alternatives for a life in the wild for Morgan. I am aware that Morgan's family has not yet been located, but that should not preclude a return to the ocean.

Please do not let the reputation of the Netherlands be blemished by a decision to wrongly confine Morgan to captivity. Please make a decision consistent with Dutch nature policy which ensures that nature is preserved for future generations.

Please allow Morgan to be brought back to the ocean, where she belongs.

If you have questions or concerns, please send to: info@orcanetwork.org.




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