New Film Focuses on Former Marineland Trainer and Whistleblower & His Epic Battle with an Iconic Niagara, Falls Amusement Park

See the World Premier of “THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER” on Hot Docs @ Home on CBC and CBC Gem on Thursday, May 28th at 8 pm ET

You can also watch it on the same night at 9 p.m. on the Documentary Channel at 9 p.m. ET

A Foreword by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper, followed by more information about the film.

Posted May 25th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

I was originally planning to do my own news story and commentary leading up to the premier this May 28th of this film but found myself backing away from that idea.

Animal activists staged another in a series of demonstrations in front of Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario – this one on Labour Day 2018. File photo by Doug Draper

I have decided to leave any write-ups of the film in the days leading up to its televised debut to other media outlets, although I will likely have something to post about the film, and about Marineland’s past and ongoing existence as a keeper and displayer of wild animals in the days and weeks following the debut.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I apparently appear in this film as one of a number of talking heads, and I shared some of my information and thoughts about Marineland and its practice of keeping whales and other animals in captivity with the film’s director Nathalie Bibeau.

File photo by Doug Draper

The information I shared with the filmmaker going back to my time in the 1980s and 1990s as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, and beyond, covering the concerns that former Marineland employees, along with individual citizens and citizen groups, raised around capturing and keeping animals like whales and dolphins and walruses in captivity for the purposes of human amusement (although the park owners and operations have always insisted there is something of “educational” value in viewing the animals in these settings.)

I have not yet seen the film and, for now, I will wait to see what, if any of the information and thoughts I shared in on-camera interviews the director felt were worthwhile using.

For now, I will leave who with one of the over-riding messages I shared with the film director about Marineland and its late founder John Holer, which was this.

The late John Holer, who founded Marineland in the early 1960s and built it into a tourist empire

As much as John Holer was portrayed as a villain by some and a visionary pioneer in the Niagara Falls tourist industry by others, I always felt that the real issue was the millions of people who pay good money to flocked to places like Marineland and SeaWorld every year to see a magnificent animal like a whale or a dolphin doing tricks in what amounts to them, and compared to the ocean they naturally inhabit, as a cement bathtub filled with chlorinated water.

There have long been allegations circulating over the years about cases of abuse at these parks, involving one animal or another, and they have always been very difficult to prove. And whatever humane society or other agency might get involved in investigating a complaint almost always ended up siding with the park that it had done nothing wrong.

Over my years of interviewing John Holler on these matters, he would always say he has been “good” to the animals in the park, and would, as he once told me in an interview, be “the biggest fool in the world” not to, since a marine mammal in captivity is, to bottom line it, worth a good deal of money as a display animal and, in some cases, as a breeder.

To me though, John Holler’s response missed the whole point.

Want to see these great animals. Go visit them in their natural home. A humpback whale breaching off the shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (just make sure you go with a boat crew that gives the animals health space.

The abuse, if you want to call it that, is keeping these great animals in cement ponds in the first place, and the real villains, in my view, are those who pay money to go and see these animals that way.

I have been out on boats on the Atlantic coast, which is not really all that hard to do if you want to, and I have seen these majestic animals gliding along the surface in their natural habitat. It’s an awesome sight that did not cost me and my family any more than paying to go into a park like SeaWorld or Marineland.

By contrast, I find anyone who enjoys seeing these animals in a cement tub (and I don’t give a shit if the tub is “regulation size”) as someone who is engaging in a relationship with other great species on this planet that is perverse, to say the least.

That’s my message. Now here is a trailer for the documentary, which you can click on below, followed by written material from the film promoter –


*”THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER” World Premiere – Hot Docs @ Home on CBC May 28, 2020, 8pm *

*In the belly of a global movement to end marine mammal captivity,*

*THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER follows a stranger-than-fiction custody battle to #savesmooshi and reveals the cost of speaking out against an industry under siege.

Director Nathalie Bibeau grew up in the rust belt of Canada, watching her brother and his best friend smoke pot in their parents’ backyard. That friend turned out to be Phil Demers, now known as @walruswhisperer to his thousands of followers as the guy taking on the iconic amusement park, MarineLand.

“Phil was always a smart ass with a quick tongue, but there was no indication he would later hone a voice on Twitter so visceral it would attract celebrities and affect the course of legislation,”  says Bibeau.

Film director Nathalie Bibeau interviews former Marineland trainer and whistleblower Phil Demers

In association with documentary Channel and CBC Docs, Bunbury Films presents THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER: a film that gives viewers a rare insiders’ glimpse into the blistering debate on marine mammal captivity and into the life of a whistleblower who is putting his neck out to ‘save’ a walrus who may think he’s her mom. 

Citizen activists at a Marineland demonstration in 2018. file photo by Doug Draper

Beautifully shot, and directed with grit and grace, the documentary paints a portrait of a flawed, unlikely and inspiring hero with nothing left to lose.

At a time when the paradigm is shifting in our relationship with animals, THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER shines a light on this subject through a unique lens and jump-starts a discussion about the courage of speaking out and the psychological toll it takes.

With scenes illustrating democracy in action, the documentary includes appearances by such noteworthy figures as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Senator Murray Sinclair, Senator Wilfred Moore and Senator Don Plett.

Directed by Nathalie Bibeau, the film World Premieres at the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival via Hot Docs at Home on CBC – May 28, 2020 at 8pm.

“I would like to think it’s good vs. evil, but I know it’s asshole vs. asshole.” -Phil Demers

*The Walrus and the Whistleblowe*r premieres *Thursday, May 28, 2020* on CBC and CBC Gem at 8 p.m. ET and on documentary Channel at 9 p.m. ET *

An episode of CBC’s *The Nature of Things* is to follow. Broadcast date TBD.

Following the postponement of the 2020 Hot Docs Festival due to COVID-19, a selection of exclusive first-run feature documentaries that would have debuted at the Festival will now premiere on CBC.


Former Marineland trainer and whistleblower Phil Demers

Phil Demers is a part-time mailman who lives in a bungalow across the creek from MarineLand, the iconic amusement park in Niagara Falls, where he had his dream job as an animal trainer for over a decade. He swam with killer whales and ran the show, until he quit and blew the whistle, making claims of animal abuse and calling for an end to the near 60-year-old practice of keeping marine mammals in pools.

Known in the media as the @walruswhisperer, Phil has appeared four times on the Joe Rogan show, has testified before the Canadian Senate, and is being sued for $1.5M for plotting to steal Smooshi, the walrus.  Phil and Smooshi had become an inseparable pair when she first arrived at MarineLand as a baby, and together they became a viral sensation in the early days of social media. Now, he’s embroiled in a custody battle to #savesmooshi.

In the belly of a global movement to end marine mammal captivity, The Walrus and the Whistleblower follows Phil as he helps champion a law to ban the captivity of whales and dolphins, faces a lawsuit entering its 8th year, and spirals around an aching loss of identity. At its heart are questions of compassion for others, humans and animals alike, the nuances of all our stories and the hills we are willing to die on.

Visit the Official Website for the film by clicking on –

To listen to an interview on HeartRadio, 610 CKTB, click on the following link and find the spot to click on near the bottom of the HeartRadio page –

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post, along with your name (not a pseudonym), in the space immediately below the Bernie Sanders quote.

 “A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

2 responses to “New Film Focuses on Former Marineland Trainer and Whistleblower & His Epic Battle with an Iconic Niagara, Falls Amusement Park

  1. Thanks for posting, Doug. Niagara Action for Animals has been knocking at the gates since the late 80’s with our concerns about keeping animals in captivity for entertainment and also among a host of individuals and groups who have been sued for those efforts. Thanks to Phil Demers & Nathalie Bibeau for shining a light into the dark crevices of that place!


  2. Very impressive — Can’t wait to see the film, thanks for posting


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