Update 4 May: Despite the PR exercise and open letter from Loro Parque, the tabloid press is not giving up on this story. The Daily Mirror now reports on “campaigners’ fury as court says move of Morgan the whale to zoo was legal”. The paper says that “activists have vowed to continue Sunday People-backed campaign to have killer whale released from Tenerife tourist attaction”. The article is HERE, and again is in a source widely read by Tenerife’s traditional British tourism market. Upmarket we might be going, and very successfully too, but for how long with this sort of publicity? Indeed, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. We need the traditional holidaymakers in addition to the “quality niche market” tourists. At some point this clamour will surely become too loud to ignore.
Update 24 April: The Dutch court ruling that was expected next month was brought forward, perhaps in response to the issue’s treatment in the press, and its judgment is that the transfer of Morgan to Loro Parque was legal. To reactions of disbelief and outrage, the court has stressed that it was not able to take questions of Morgan’s welfare into account, and was only permitted to revisit the original ruling of the legality of the transfer to Tenerife. That transfer has now been confirmed as fully legal.
Loro Parque, in response both to the court ruling and the welfare organizations clamouring for Morgan’s release, has held a press conference in which the foundation’s deputy director Javier Almunia said that Morgan’s health was perfectly guaranteed, and that she had integrated perfectly with the park’s other orcas, and that rigorous quality control systems were in place. Javier Almunia also said that analysis indicated that Morgan had a hearing defect which represented a dreadful handicap which would hamper release to the wild.
The park had, however, he said, developed a lighting device as a means of communication for Morgan, and that the system would be expanded in the main pool so that Morgan could know at all times what was going on. The deputy director said that, moreover, Morgan’s difficulties have helped research because projects and studies initially intended to locate her family have resulted in advances in acoustic and dialect knowledge, and these will now form a basis for further research with St Andrews University in Scotland.
Loro Parque Vice President Christoph Kiessling said that he regretted the “successive unfounded attacks”, and the appeals by “some organizations that have been based on false and malicious information from those who present themselves as animal defenders”. Mr Kiessling said that the court ruling made it quite clear that campaigns organized by such groups, and their systematic attacks on Loro Parque with false, dishonest and seriously deceitful information, are aimed solely at damaging the image and good reputation of one of the most prizewinning parks in the world.
No doubt this issue will continue. The history of cetacean captivity and campaigning in the US suggests there will be no easy solution, nor victory, for either side here. I’m keeping comments switched off because it serves nothing for this blog to become bogged down in the vitriol. My own personal view is that Loro Parque is a wonderful resource which does a phenomenal amount of good, and that all welfare and other considerations apart, cetaceans are now a distraction that risks damaging Tenerife’s own reputation. I hope that some solution can be found before that happens.
Original post 20 April: From posts I’ve made in the past regular readers will know me to be a great fan of Loro Parque. I admire beyond measure their environmental programmes, and am beyond words for the wonderful work they’ve done with birds, especially in saving species from extinction. All this, however, is now in danger, with the clamour about the Orcas in captivity – and especially the free-born Morgan – increasing to the point, in my opinion, where it cannot be ignored.
Sky News now is reporting on a front page spread in the Sunday People about Torture in Tenerife. Loro Parque’s reputation will be on the line, and that would be a huge shame, but Tenerife’s own reputation is also affected by this and we cannot, surely, have all hands to the pumps to portray our island as a top-notch, five-star, luxury destination for the discerning traveller while the Sunday tabloids are screaming about torture in one of Tenerife’s flagship venues.
I have become increasingly uncomfortable about cetaceans in captivity as the evidence has mounted, but this is no longer only about animals – distressing as that might be. This is now about Tenerife, our reputation and our tourism market. The authorities need to listen or we will all suffer along with the dolphins and whales in Loro Parque and elsewhere.