Wetenschap - 30 november 2011

'Morgan is just like a small child'

The journey of Morgan the orca to Tenerife on 29 November was national news. The young orca was found in a weakened state in the Waddenzee in May 2010. Marine biologist Mardik Leopold from Imares was on the committee which had to consider releasing it back into the wild.


Foto: .

How did you get to be on the committee?
Shortly after Morgan was taken into custody, the Dolfinarium appointed a committee of six experts from all over the world to advise on its release. I was added to the team by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.'
What was it like to work together in giving advice?
'Very special indeed. Every member had to write a separate report. This procedure was very dependable but the committee members had to bear a high professional risk. Afterwards, it appeared that all seven gave the same advice. But you can still be wrong with seven of us. And you would never find out because you can't both free the animal and transfer it.
She is now in captivity; why can't she be set free?
'This animal is just like a small child. You can compare it to finding a very skinny foreign little girl of three on the highway around Amsterdam. You don't put her back onto the street when she's ten. It's very strange that Morgan has lost her family. Orcas keep in touch with one another. Maybe she was a social outcast or something has happened to her family.'
So her family has not been found?
'Morgan made a few sounds only after a few months. Her dialect appeared for 60 percent to match that of a Norwegian group of orcas which, however, was last seen in 2005. The sea around Norway is thousands of square kilometres big. And she has to be returned to her mother. A group of nephews and nieces would reject her.'
Have you met Morgan?
'Yes, it is a fantastically beautiful animal. She saw me standing there right away and looked me straight in the eye. Orcas are social group animals. She was bored stiff in that tank. She had been there for too long.'
All's well that ends well?
'It'll still be exciting. Orcas in captivity are from different groups, and they would have to accept her. My work is finished but I'll keep following what happens.'