A Commentary by NAL publisher and reporter Doug Draper
Posted August 15th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Earlier this August 15th, I posted a story on Niagara At Large with a headline reading – ‘Marineland Canada Mournfully Reports The Passing Of Our Beloved Beluga Whale Gia.’
As I was posting that headline and the news release from the Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ontario that went with it, I could foresee at least few readers possibly firing back some criticism about the use of words like “mournfully” and “beloved” in a report about the death of a whale that had likely spent its entire life held captive in a tank or pool.
I can dig the criticism – and if you’re of a mind to, bring it on – but I did not write the headline. The communications staff at Marineland did and I do not believe in playing around with the wording of anyone’s media release.
The way I look at it with anyone who sends me a news release for possible posting here, it is their release and the rest of us can always respond to whatever it says with a commentary of our own, which is what I am doing now.
In the case of the media release from Marineland about how mournful the park owners and operators feel about “the passing of (their) beloved beluga whale Gia,’ I have little doubt that in ways some of us may not understand, they grew close to this animal and were sad when it died.
Over my past years as an environment reporter for mainstream newspapers, I interviews a good number of people who were trainers and or did other work at parks like Marineland or SeaWorld, and to a person, they told me how fond they grew of the whales and other marine mammals they came to know during their tenures, however strongly they may have felt the animals should not be there.
Some of those people had tears well in their eyes as they recalled to me a whale or a dolphin they recall dying at a park where they were working years earlier. I remember the same emotional reaction coming from a guy I once interviewed named Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer who worked on a 1960s TV series called ‘Flipper’ and who later became an anti-captivity activists and author of a book; ‘Behind The Dolphin Smile’, as he recalled one of the captive dolphins he trained for the show dying within reach of him.
So I can’t say that the owner and founder of the Marineland park in Niagara Falls, John Holer, and members of his staff didn’t feel the same way following the recent death of one of their captive Beluga whales, Gia.
I also can’t over a detailed argument, one way or another, about the recent dismissal by an Ontario court of animal abuse charges laid against Marineland by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals because I did not attend the court proceedings and don’t know enough about the evidence, or lack there-of, that the SPCA went to the court with..
But I will say something I have repeated for more than two decades now, going back to my early coverage for a Niagara, Ontario newspaper of concerns raised by some former employees and animal advocacy groups about the treatment of whales and other animals at Marineland.
It is very difficult to prove to a court or to a humane society officer that a park like Marineland or any other party that has custody of animals that those animals are being intentionally abused, which is why so many cases of this nature never lead to convictions.
I recall a time, many years ago, when I sat down at a picnic table at Marineland across from John Holer and confronting him head on with accusations I head from others that whales and other animals were being abused in his park. Dismissing the accusations as ridiculous and totally without foundation, he told me that he would be crazy not to care for animals that are so valuable to the success of the park.
I have had more disagreements with John Holer than I could ever count, but I have to agree that it would be crazy not to treat these animals with all the care one can in a captive environment given the effort and cost involved in acquiring them in the first place.
So what it has always come down to for me, regardless of how much care parks like Marineland may provide for these animals in a tank or pond, is that animals like whales and dolphins should never be in these places in the first place. They should be in their natural environment, roaming free with other members of their families or pods.
Catherine Ens, a long-time animal advocate with the citizens group, Niagara Action for Animals or NAFA, for shirt, shared a comment that is near and dear to my heart after Niagara At Large posted a piece this past August 10th about the Ontario courts dismissing the animal abuse charges the SPCA was pressing against Marineland.
“The real question is should animals be used as ‘entertainment’,” wrote Catherine Ens in her comment. “I doubt that animals at Marineland are ‘well loved’ or ‘taken care of’ etc…..but even if it was otherwise….Marineland is a money making place and when animals are on one side of the scale, and financial gain on the other, it’s pretty obvious which will win out.”
Catherine Ens and many other volunteer members and supporters of NAFA had spent years standing out in front of Marineland during long weekends in the spring and summer, holding up signs and handing out literature in an effort to trying their hardest to discourage people from spending their hard-earned money supporting places that keep these magnificent animals in captivity,
There are some reasons to believe that across North America, public interest in venues that feature animals for exhibition or entertainment are falling out of favour, SeaWorld recently announced that it would stop breeding orcas (killer whales) and would phase out whale performances at their facilities across the United States before the end of this decade.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, famous (or infamous, if you will) for their performing elephants and big cats, closed the lights for the last time on their 146-year-old circus shows this past May.
I have no idea how many people are buying tickets to go into Marineland compared to 10 or 20 years ago, but during the height of the summer tourist season, the sprawling parking lots in front of the park always seem to be full.
I don’t know what it is about humans that so many of us can’t just appreciate the nature around us for how wondrous it is and do our best to let it be. We need to get in there and use it like some sort of playpen full of toys for our amusement.
If or until that side of us changes, bodies like the SPCA and others can investigate all of the accusations of abuse their budgets will allow, and nothing is really going to change.
To read related stories on Niagara At Large, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/08/10/crown-withdraws-all-charges-laid-against-marineland-by-ontario-spca/ .
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