A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted May 26th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Niagara Falls, Ontario – What if it was opening day weened at Marineland and some 300 people showed up – not to buy tickets to go through the front gates, but to stand along the road outside, protesting the captivity of marine mammals and other animals inside.
On Saturday, May 21st, as thousands of visitors were among the first to pour through the park’s gates this year, literally hundreds of animal advocates picketed outside, including members of Niagara Action for Animals (NAFA) – a group that has been protesting Marineland’s exhibition of whales, dolphins and other animals for more than half the years that the park first opened in the 1960s.
Two summers ago, when The Toronto Star ran a series of critical stories on Marineland’s handling of animals in its park, the number of people picketing in front of the park on a Saturday swelled from the usual 30 or 40 to well over 500 on some weekends. But some veteran Marineland protesters wondered how many would continue to join their ranks when the attention of the Toronto media shifted to something else.
Now here we are, two years later, and 300 out on opening day weekend is pretty impressive and seems to reflect a sea change, particularly among members of the under-30 millennial generation which, in this veteran environment reporter’s view, is demonstrating a much stronger respect for the natural world around us than generations before them have over the past two or three decades.
You can also see it in the number of millennials in Niagara who have become engaged in the campaign to save what are left of our natural wetlands from predatory forces working levers of destruction behind the curtains of once nature friendly groups like the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
That’s not to say there haven’t been members of older generations who haven’t been there, advocating for the natural world all along.
In the case of Marineland, there is Catherine Ens and other members of NAFA who have served as a voice for the animals inside that park for the better part of 30 years now. And there is ZooCheck Canada, and leaders in that Toronto-based animal advocacy organization like Rob Laidlaw and Julie Woodyer, who have been there all these years too.
And the times, they are a changing, to quote a Bob Dylan song. In the United States, Sea World announced earlier this year that it is phasing out its marine mammal shows and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, the mother of all circuses for more than 100 years, has recently decided to retire its performing elephants to passive sanctuaries.
And unlike a decade or two ago, when places like SeaWorld and Marineland were way up there on lists of destinations for school trips, I hardly ever remember hearing my millennial daughter or any of her peers expressing an interest in watching animals put on show for entertainment.
Could it be that growing numbers of us are finally ready to respect and to let other living beings on this planet be in their natural environments?
Indeed, if the circus can go on without performing animals, certainly Marineland, with all its rides and other attractions, can continue to draw crowds without captive animals.
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