Northland orca expert Ingrid Visser has lost a two-year court battle to free a young orca held captive in a Spanish theme park.
The female orca, known as Morgan, was alone and emaciated when rescued off the Dutch coast in 2010. A marine park near Amsterdam nursed it back to health but then, instead of returning it to the wild, made plans to transfer it to Loro Parque in Spain's Canary Islands.
That sparked a legal battle by the Orca Coalition, with help from Dr Visser and the Free Morgan Foundation, who came up with a detailed release plan and argued that transferring Morgan to Spain was illegal. The group won a landmark legal victory in August 2011 - but celebrations were shortlived, because a few months later the Amsterdam District Court allowed the transfer to go ahead.
That decision was revisited in a day-long hearing in Amsterdam on November 1, Dr Visser's last chance to persuade the Dutch courts to order Morgan's rehabilitation and eventual release.
The judges released their decision yesterday, finding no laws were broken when Morgan was transferred to Spain. Dr Visser is still in Holland and could not be contacted yesterday.
Opua's Floppy Halliday, who was also in Amsterdam for the November 1 hearing, said Loro Parque was "a terrible place". Dr Visser had been to see Morgan a few days before the verdict, finding the orca had new injuries and its teeth worn from chewing on concrete. It was sharing a tank with a large male, presumably in the hope Morgan would breed.
"It's really upsetting. She's still a juvenile and in a tank with an adult male which is sexually harassing her. It's like putting a child out to prostitution. It's awful."
It was a sad day for Morgan's supporters, who had travelled from around the world to pack the court on November 1. The judges had seemed sympathetic to the orca's plight, Ms Halliday said. The coalition would not give up but was likely to now focus on Spanish courts.
Coalition spokeswoman Barbara van Genne said laws meant to protect had seriously failed. The judge's ruling did not bode well for wild animals when they were "worth gold" in captivity, she said.