The Curtains Are Finally Closing In On Captive Marine Mammal Exhibits in Canada
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted May 22nd, 2019 on Niagara At Large
The opening day of Marineland’s 58th season came and went this May 18th with the usual gathering of animal welfare activists demonstrating along a narrow stretch of land between the main road and a fence in front of the sprawling Niagara Falls, Ontario amusement park.
Missing from the mix on this opening day was John Holer, the man who founded Marineland and built it into one of Niagara Falls’ top tourist draws by the 1970s and 80s.
A year ago this May on, John Holer was reported to have been seen on the other side of the fence from the demonstrators on opening day, staring them down as he drove his SUV through Marineland’s parking lot. A month later he died at age 83.
The amusement park has continued without him, however, and a news release it issued the day following the May 18th opening that boasted about the “huge crowd” of visitors flowing through its gates that “dwarf(ed)” the “small group of annual demonstrators.”
How “huge” the crowds going through Marineland’s gates on this opening day compared to years gone by would be hard for the demonstrators to determine anyway since this year, for the first time, park operators hung a dark curtain along the chain link fence, making it virtually impossible for demonstrators and park goers to see each other.
The curtain or “windscreen,” as some called it, did not stop demonstrators from displaying signs with anti-captivity messages that could be seen by those heading for the gates since all they had to do is attach their signs to longer poles.
And it will do nothing to stop an anticipated change in federal legislation that will spell the beginning of the end of whales and other marine mammals being held in captivity in Canada either.
According to several reports in the mainstream media through this past winter into spring, a piece of legislation that has slowly but surely been working its way through Canada’s senate and parliamentary system – Bill S-203 or better known as the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act – is almost certain to get final approval this year.
If and when the legislation passes, parks with aquariums or zoos that have marine mammals (and Marineland in Niagara Falls is about the only park left in all of Canada that still has these mammals in captivity at all) would be able to keep the animals they have until they expire, but would not be able to breed or transport to their facilities any more.
That means that when the last marine mammal at a park dies or is possibly sold and shipped off to a facility in another country that does not have such laws, the park’s days of keeping and exhibiting marine mammals are over.
In anticipation of the opening day demonstration this May 18th – and with this federal regulation in the background, and heading for almost certain approval – Marineland was quoted in some media outlets saying that anti-captivity activists should focus their attention on “real threats’ like “climate change, pollution, hunting and thoughtless human disregard for damage to natural ecosystems.”
“We hope that (the May 18th) demonstration,” concluded the Marineland statement, “will focus attention where it really belongs, on those real and serious issues that are already being directly addressed by important education, research and conservation programs around the world.”
Certainly, a great deal more attention needs to be focused on the environmental crises threatening our oceans and other life-sustaining resources on this planet. But that shouldn’t take attention away from addressing issues around keeping these great mammals in captivity.
Marineland’s statement appears to leave us faced with a false choice between keeping a whale or dolphin in captivity or letting them live in a polluted ocean where they can fall prey to hunders.
And it is a false choice!
There is no reason why we can’t pass laws like Bill S-203 that phase out marine mammal captivity, even while we are working for a cleaner, healthier, safer environment for these animals and for all other life forms on the planet, including ourselves.
Most animal welfare activists I have interviewed over the years are focused on both of those things, and much more. They’ve shown, time and time again, that they are quite capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
In a statement that was published in Niagara area newspapers earlier this year, the late John Holer’s wife, Marie wrote; “We are in a transitional phase as Marineland continues a new chapter without my husband’s presence. It is our plan to continue to build on his legacy and ensure Marineland Canada remains relevant going into the future.
“We look forward to sharing more with members of the public about our exciting plans for Marineland Canada, and want to ensure your readers rest assured that each and every animal who calls Marineland Canada home is loved, well cared for and their best interests will forever guide our decisions regarding their care.”
I won’t presume to question how much Mrs. Holer and others at Marineland love these animals. In their own way, they may love them more than I or many others could ever know.
Then again, it is hard to image any animal calling or wanting to call Marineland home, however less than pristine the natural environment they were plucked from is or was.
The one thing about Mrs. Holer’s statement I do find encouraging something she said at the end.
“I am confident,” she said, that “Marineland will continue to evolve and flourish into the future.”
We should wish Mrs. Holer and others working at Marineland that the park evolves and flourishes in ways that do not involve keeping animals in captivity for the interest or amusement of however many people flow through the gates.
For those who find something entertainment or educational in paying to see animals kept in captivity, perhaps they should come to terms with the reason why, and see if they can find something more fulfilling to do with their money and time.
Catherine Ens, a veteran member of the activist group Niagara Action for Animals (NAfA) who has been demonstrating against keeping animals kept captive at Marineland and similar venues for many years, shared this message with Niagara At Large following May 18th’s opening day demonstration –
“We are hopeful” said Ens, “that with the Bill S-203, the ‘Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act” making its way through Ontario Parliament, that we might finally see an end to captive whales and dolphins at Marineland.”
“And with them,” she added, “we hope that all the other animals at Marineland; the deer, bears, bison and assorted other land animals, will find a place more suitable to their individual needs too.”
Just one last footnote, though.
After going on 30 years or more, writing about this and related issues around the keeping of animals in captivity, I can’t believe I am still here writing about it now.
With a climate catastrophe, continued significant losses of wildlife habitat, including wetlands and great stands of trees, and all of the other challenges the ecosystem we all depend on for a health life faces, we very much need to get matters like this, that should have been addressed a long time ago, behind us, folks.
We have so many other pressing matters at hand.
To read a recent CBC story on the anti-captivity legislation on its way through the federal legislature in Canada, click on – https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tasker-whale-dolphin-captivity-ban-1.5082664 .
If you would like more information on Niagara Action for Animals and its animal welfare work, click on – https://niagaraactionforanimals.org/ .
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