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Dolphinarium Harderwijk Reputation Rebuilding Falls Short

April 5, 2012

Morgan at Dolphinarium Harderwijk ~ photo courtesy Liz Sandeman

In a futile attempt at damage control, the Dolphinarium Harderwijk has published an article in Zooquaria Magazine, a quarterly publication of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) following the November transfer of rescued orca Morgan to Loro Parque in Tenerife.

The 1-page article is published in the appropriate section: MEDIA AND PR, because it’s nothing more than that. And it definitely doesn’t contain anything “scientifically sound and realistic”:

View this document on Scribd

From the Zooquaria article:

“The skin marks caused by teeth on one of the animals in Loro Parque was used as proof that this group of killer whales was highly aggressive amongst one another. The skin marks however were very superficial and far more serious marks are widely found among killer whales in the wild.” says Niels van Elk, veterinarian and marine biologist, Dolfinarium Harderwijk.

Mr. van Elk, have you seen Morgan’s recent wounds after being repeatedly rammed and bitten by the other animals held there? Click HERE to see for yourself.

“The coalition claimed killer whales in zoos have a far shorter life expectancy than their counterparts in the wild. Long term analysis of the marine mammal inventory of the USA indicates the reverse is true.” ~ Niels van Elk

Where’s your data to support this?

Unlike the marine park industry’s typical baseless claims, in the past 18 months there HAVE been two studies conducted on captive orca longevity which show the appalling rate by which orcas die at young ages in marine parks:

One study was completed by former SeaWorld trainers John Jett, PhD and Jeffrey Ventre, MD in “Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity“. Another study was conducted by Senior Scientist Naomi Rose, PhD for the Humane Society International in “Killer Controversy: Why orcas should no longer be kept in captivity

Where is Dr. van Elk’s study to back up his claims? Where is the Harderwijk study… or any marine park’s study? He is also misguided in his assertion that “animal rights activists” count all deaths at zoos starting at birth but wild animals are only counted after 6 months of age—

In the Jett/Ventre study, the Mean Duration of Captivity (MDC) was indeed calculated inclusive of the relatively few live births that did not survive beyond 6 months, however, this only factored into the post-Kalina cohort when “successful” captive breeding began in 1985. The MDC, including early-death calves, was calculated at 2,413 days or 6.6 years. Extracting the captive born orca calves that did not survive >6 months, the resulting change is not statistically significant; the MDC only rises to approx 2,690 days or 7.4 years. By applying the Kaplan-Meir method, the results place the median duration of captivity between 2.7 and 8.9 years— well below that of wild orca longevity.

Naomi’s calculations of the Annual Survival Rate (ASR) looked at the data in a number of ways; including and excluding calves and non-calves, wild caught and captive born, by birth, rescue, stranding, released and escaped, as well as with and without “unsuccessful” births including stillborn calves. As Dr. Rose cited in her white paper, captive orca survivorship has grown worse since the 1995 Small and DeMaster study (which, like the Jett/Ventre and Rose studies also erred on the side of caution and utilized data biased toward marine parks).

In the wild male orcas live an average of 30+ years and females 50+ years. Many also live well into their 80s or 90s. In captivity orcas rarely make it out of their teens and suffer from the extreme stresses of the captive environment.

No matter how you slice or dice the data it is evident that orcas in the wild fare MUCH better than their captive counterparts.

Mr. van Elk— show us your data to back up your claims. Our guess is it doesn’t exist.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Gerard permalink
    December 18, 2013 5:00 am

    Morgan was found nearby my house at a little harbor in the North of the Netherlands. He was floating, starving from hunger and disease. There where two options; let him be, or rescue him. The choice was made to rescue him. What happened after this is well known by now. Even the Dutch government got involved, but was mis-leaded. However, the Dolphinarium at Harderwijk isn’t equipped to keep an animal like this for a long period of time. So maybe they didn’t have a choice. While a lot of people wanted to release Morgan in to the sea again, no money was provided to back this up. I think that was the real problem. Hopefully he will be released in the near future.

  2. Pamela Johnson permalink
    July 21, 2013 3:42 am

    Black Fish was a great film to share with the masses this tragedy taking place in the name of entertainment. Any one associated with or who patrons Sea World or any facility keeping Orcas in captivity should be held accountable. In a decade humanity will look back and be ashamed for letting this travesty happen. This is not a fringe movement. Sea World should talk to scientists to understand the species.

  3. October 13, 2012 11:36 am

    Great article ! As a Belgian activist, I’m used to hear incredible lies from Boudewijn Seapark responsible persons. It’s easy for them : no journalist never inquires further. No politics wants to know the truth (dolfinarium is good for local economy) when Bernard Logghe tells the media that “There is not a single captured dolphin in our pool” (3, in fact : Beachie, Roxanne and Puck) or “Flo died at the age of 13 because a toothache”. Just like Milo ? (dead at 8 y.o). How strange !!
    Happily, Dr Rose is there to break this kind of false speech. I’ll try to join Orca Coalitie on November 1 for Morgan’s trial.

  4. April 8, 2012 5:45 pm

    Thank you TOP for this revealing report including the astonishing claims of Mr. van Elk. Here is a new interview with journalist Tim Zimmermann that mentions the stress of captivity for killer whales, as well as what work is like for a trainer.

  5. danielabress permalink
    April 7, 2012 12:45 pm

    What’s wrong with you?
    Try seriously to tell your readers killer whales enjoy living their proven shorter lifes in captivity?
    Animals and species protection certainly does not mean to prevent young sea mammal’s releases by imprisonment for a proven drastich reduced survival in miniature tanks in order to increase the number of visitors and thus increase the profit of these companies by letting them play silly ballgames for stupid humans!
    It does not require extra study – everyone knows how short life was for most captive orcas in the past, because they constantly have to get antibiotics, sedatives and other drugs, so they play with balls, jump through hoops and let themselves be abused as surfboards without getting bacterial infections or being too aggressive or stressed by their living conditions!

  6. Milo permalink
    April 6, 2012 4:46 pm

    Being from the Netherlands, I feel completely embarrassed by the case regarding Morgan and still can’t believed she wasn’t released back into the wild–and her recent injuries should prove the latter would have been a much better choice for Morgan. This article seems like a poor excuse at damage control; if you’re going to claim something as controversial as captive Orca living longer (when even a lay person would know the opposite is in fact the case) you have to be able to back that up with at least some form of research–as nn posted, this article is a joke.

    • Cassie permalink
      January 24, 2013 4:47 pm

      What?! You’re from the Netherlands and your name is Milo?! There was a boy in my class last year named Milo and he was Dutch too!

  7. April 6, 2012 6:16 am

    This Dolphinarium article is a joke!

  8. April 5, 2012 4:37 pm

    Thank you TOP for staying the sad life of Morgan since Harderwijk chose to ignore completely feasible release plans put forward by many international experts. We know Harderewijk for what it is.

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