Marineland Should Be Target Of Indepth Probe By Independent, Expert Panel

A Niagara At Large Editorial by Doug Draper 

Ontario’s Community Safety and Corrections Minister Madeleine Meilleur says she “was in tears” when she read a series of stories in the Toronto Star this August, detailing charges of animal suffering by former employees at the popular Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

From an August 2012 protest rally in front of Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Photo by Doug Draper

That sounds touching and suggests the possibility that Meilleur is sincerely concerned about any living being , whether it be a whale, a dolphin, a sea lion or a bear, that may be struggling to survive in conditions that are less than humane. But tears, as we all know, can be wiped away with one brush of a hanky and are no compensation for taking effective action to address the circumstances that reportedly caused the Liberal government cabinet minister to cry in the first place. 

What Meilleur and the government of Dalton McGuinty ought to do right now, in the wake of a series of stories The Star has been publishing this August on the conditions of  animals at Marineland, is assemble a team of some of the best marine mammal and terrestrial animal experts on the continent to get to the bottom of what should be done to regulate the operations of facilities like this and whether keeping animals as exotic and complex as whales, dolphins and seals in captivity should be allowed at all.

Such an expert panel should combine unannounced, on-site inspections of Marineland’s animal operations with open hearings that call and, if necessary, subpoena witnesses, including trainers and others who worked at this park over its 51-year history, to testify on the operations around animal care there. This panel should then prepare a detailed report to the province, along with a list of recommendations for a new set of enforceable regulations for facilities of this nature. Once again, the panel should be given the latitude not to set legal standards for keeping animals in captivity, but to make the case, should it see fit, to outlaw any further breeding or importation of whales and other mammals at sites like this for the purposes of keeping them in captivity.

This grainy photo, of a pilot whale named ‘Baby Jane’ at Marineland, shows this poor animal crashing and cutting itself in an underwater dundgeon at the park. Now one from the provincial or federal government or any area humane society did anything to regulate Marineland for the condition of this animal at the time.

To simply send bodies like the Niagara Falls Humane Society and Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) into Marineland, as the provincial government has this August 23 after the park owners received almost a full week of warning that that they would make an inspection, is a slap in the face to everyone, from the latest group of employees who quit and had the courage to express their views publicly, to every former trainer and animal advocate who has tried to raise concern over the past 30 or more years. Many of these people found themselves being threatened or at the very least, publicly insulted by Marineland for daring to speak out and they and the animals they were concerned about deserve more than an inspection by two bodies – the Humane Society and SPCA – that all but ignored their concerns for decades. 

Indeed, these two organizations have been as derelict in their duties as animal welfare bodies that it took a newspaper to inform their boss – the community safety minister – to get them motivated. For the chief licensing officer of the SPCA, Connie Mallory, to tell the Toronto Star three days into its expose on alleged animal maltreatment at Marineland that; “We’ve got to do what’s best for the animals’ welfare,” is a shocking joke.

Check out the growths and sores on the neck and chest of this deer at Marineland from a photo taken about five years ago. How could any animal welfare or human society inspector with a badge walk through here and say this is okay? And what about the veteranarian for Marineland who recently said things are good for animals here? Photo courtesy of the Toronto-based public interest group Zoocheck.

In February of 1997, the Niagara Falls Humane Society, in response to a request by Zoocheck Canada, a nation-wide not for profit animal advocacy group asking to at least meet in confidence with the humane society to discuss concerns about Marineland raised by a group of marine biologist and other zoologists it employed that had inspected the animal exhibits at the park, wrote a terse letter back; “Regarding your request for a confidential meeting, I am sorry to advise that the Board of turned down your request. … They realize you have concerns and feel they should be pursued at the government level. Sincerely Pam Steward, President, Niagara Falls Humane Society.”

Marineland deer licks open wounds but that is apparently okay with humane society inspectors. Photo courtesy of Zoocheck.

This response is so typical from a Niagara Falls Humane Society which has a plaque on the wall of its building, thanking Marineland owner John Holer for donating the land for the building.

If Ontario Community Safety and Corrections Minister is truly sincere about getting to the bottom of allegations of animal mal-treatment at Marineland, strike an independent panel of mammal experts to the investigation and make the recommendations.

Then there is Duke the dolphin who, at age 29 when Cara Sands, head of Friends of the Dolphins took this photo in the 1990s, was possibily the longest suffering marine mammal that has ever been kept in captivity in Marineland. This dolphin had so many sores and lacerations on its skin that one trainer said at the time; “he is too ugly to be used for show purposes.” I last saw him in the mid 1990s circling endlessly around a tank like an old torpedo. Cara Sands and Ric O’Barry, who was the trainer for the 1960s show Flipper and was a key player in the recent Academy Award documentary ‘The Cove’, pled with Marineland’s owners to let Duke go to an open water sanctuary in Florida, but they said no. So he died at Marineland with no one from the local humane society supporting O’Barry in his quest to give this him chance for rehabilitation and possible release to the sea. This editorial is for you Duke. Doug Draper

Do not leave this work in the hands of people who have gone through Marineland in the past, seen the deplorable condition of the animals, including dear and bears with growths and open wounds and scars on their body, and walked out of there with nothing to report to you.

The welfare of the animals in this major park and the individuals and groups who have put their necks on the line to report their concerns for these animals over the years deserve – at long last – a hearing from a team of independent experts who have no direct or indirect monetary interests in Marineland.

Please Madame Meilleur – after all of these years of good people sticking their neck out for an honest probe of animals conditions in Marineland – don’t let this opportunity to finally do one pass by. 

(Niagara At Large invites you to share your views on this post below, remembering that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last names.)


8 responses to “Marineland Should Be Target Of Indepth Probe By Independent, Expert Panel

  1. Thank for you for the awesome read. Do you have more? You and I share a similar writing style, but yours is far better than mine.


  2. Keep up the good work. I had no idea of this mess until I read your article. I agree that it’s time for an investigation and some help for the animals that are suffering.


  3. Doug, I hope and pray that everybody who reads this excellent article forwards it to friends, family, neighbour — and to their MPP, with a call for action.


  4. I have followed this story through Twitter over the last week or so (I apologise for having no knowledge of this awful place before).I am absolutely disgusted to read the horror that has taken place here,but confused as to why it has not been highlighted the same way it is now-before?These poor animals rotting away in a liquid prison full of poison and those poor deers covered in open sores!How antiquated are the laws that these animals are not even covered by even the most basic means of humane treatment?I’m sickened & disgusted,the lack of progress in investigating all these allegations is criminal in itself,something has to be done for the sake of these animals that have suffered before & are suffering now……………..


  5. Sherrie Whitton

    Thank you for speaking up for these beautiful animals. They do not deserve this treatment and I can only hope that someone with enough power decides to take the first step in getting these animals out of these conditions and into an environment where they can heal and live out their lives without suffering.


  6. This definitely needs to be addressed on all social media and with a petition………I support you Doug Draper…….


  7. I am so glad people are taking a great interest in this. Let’s keep this issue alive! We need to be writing to our MPPs and asking for tougher laws to protect these dear animals, as well as to impose meaningful sanctions against people that profit from this type of animal neglect. Madeleine Meilleur is Minister for Public Safety and has jurisdiction over the OSPCA Act. Frank Klees of the Conservatives and Cheri DiNovo of the NDP have also expressed major concerns about these kinds of things as well … maybe push for a private members’ bill?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.