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HARDERWIJK, Netherlands (Reuters Life!) - The first orca whale found alive in Dutch coastal waters for more than 60 years is under medical watch at a marine park after its rescue this week as marine biologists consider her future.
The young orca female whale was sighted by a ship near the island of Ameland in the Dutch Wadden Sea on Wednesday and captured later that night by the aquarium park Dolfinarium.
"When we found the orca she was very weakened and we saw that she had not been eating for a couple of days," said Dolfinarium spokesman Bert van Plateringen.
But the whale, which has attracted widespread attention from the Dutch and has been named Morgan, is eating and regaining strength. Marine biologists are still closely monitoring her health, particularly her lungs for a possible infection.
The last living orca seen in Dutch waters was in 1947, while in 1963 a killer whale washed ashore at Noordwijk, located between Amsterdam and The Hague.
Kees Camphuysen at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research said orcas are usually found in Scottish waters, the Irish Sea, Atlantic or further north in the Arctic.
Until the 1960s they were sometimes seen near the Netherlands feeding on Harbour Porpoises, but porpoises disappeared in the 1950s-70s, not to return until the late 1990s.
Dolfinarium spokesman Plateringen said it was likely the orca got separated from her mother and became lost. Although the marine park is in no hurry, the ultimate goal is to help her recuperate and release her back into the sea, he said.
But this approach is not without its critics.
"A release again into the wild is not a sensible option. Killer whales have a very long phase of dependence on the mother and later the pod," Camphuysen said. "An orphan stands little chance to learn the tricks of being a killer whale in the wild."
Keiko, the star of the Free Willy films died after he was released from captivity back into the sea.
Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block, editing by Paul Casciato