In the time that Morgan has been held in captivity, the tide of opinion about orcas displayed for entertainment has changed dramatically. This has apparently been largely as a result of the critically-acclaimed 2013 'Blackfish' documentary leading to what has been coined the 'Blackfish Effect.' This, amongst many other efforts, has seen an increased awareness about the plight of captive orcas, as well as leading to the creation of new legislation.
Europe, where Morgan's controversy centers, has experienced a marked change in attitude on the issue. A new coalition of organisations and individuals from across Europe and other parts of the world was formed in 2014 and is working to affect a change for captive cetaceans (whales and dolphins) at national and international European policy level. Additionally, two European marine entertainment captivity parks have recently closed for good, illustrating again that public opinion is changing.
Visser's and Spiegl's contemporary policy paper presents itself as complimentary to a mosaic of work being carried out around the world in an attempt to seek an end to orca captivity. It brings specific attention to the predicament that rescued cetaceans in particular might end up in. The white paper unveils the ethically questionable and potentially corrupt practices of an industry that is forcing sentient individuals to survive in artificial conditions that, as science would suggest, they simply cannot thrive in.
Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, is heavily involved in this work that is taking place to phase out orca (and other cetacean) captivity in both the USA and Europe. In speaking about rescued cetaceans like Morgan, Rose explained, "For decades, the marine mammal public display industry has operated with relative impunity in terms of determining when a rescued marine mammal is 'unreleasable.' This has led to a number of animals over the years being retained for display when they were originally rescued from strandings or other situations requiring human intervention."
Rose said that the industry has held onto some of the rescued animals that should have been returned to the wild because infusion of new genes is needed for captive breeding programs. "Morgan is a classic case," stated Rose. "She legitimately needed rescue, but rather than treating her as almost all other rescued (terrestrial as well as marine) wildlife is, her case was manipulated by the industry – and the authorities in the Netherlands, Spain, and the US were complicit, even if only through non-action – to allow her to be sent to Loro Parque to be bred with captive-born orcas and displayed even though she was a strong candidate for return to the wild after her rehabilitation. But even worse, she has now somehow become the commercial property of a US corporation, despite being rescued and held in Europe under European law."
According to a study undertaken by leisure industry expert Dennis Speigel (no relation to the white paper author), each SeaWorld orca is worth $15-20 million USD. Therefore, if Morgan is worth that much and she additionally produces 2.8 calves, which is the number of calves the average female orca at SeaWorld will give birth to during her lifetime, then the (conservative) projected asset valuation of Morgan to SeaWorld and its stockholders would be just under $60 million USD. This figure doesn't account for the value of an entirely new bloodline for SeaWorld's breeding program.
"Morgan has fallen between the cracks and this is not the first time this has happened," Rose stated. "It's just the most obvious case in recent years and the white paper by Dr. Visser and Mr. Spiegl does a masterful job of digging down into the weeds to clarify how such a thing could happen." She added, "Make no mistake, Morgan's use by a Spanish facility in a commercial display and breeding program, all on behalf of SeaWorld Entertainment in the US, is not the result of any established, legal process – it is the result of neglect and apathy by all the relevant authorities."
Morgan is continually shadowed by an adult male orca at Loro ParqueDr. Ingrid N. Visser / www.freemorgan.org