Marine Mammal Captivity Has Thrived With the Money Millions of Us Paid at the Gates of Parks like Marineland

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar

A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher           Doug Draper

Posted May 29th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

The first time I went to Marineland was back in or around 1970 for a date with a girl I was going out with at the time.

Inside the gates there was the ‘King Waldorf Theatre’ with the big cement pool surrounded by bleachers and stage props where dolphins and seals and whales and walruses swam and performed an assortment of tricks, and there was a pen where you could go and feed deer and another where bears stood begging for an ice cream cone or any other food a part visitor might toss down to them.

Marine mammals enthrall the masses at at the King Waldorf Theatre in the Marineland Park in Niagara Falls, Ontario

And that was about it.

The Niagara Falls amusement park had only been open about eight or nine years at the time and was not anywhere near as elaborate as it came to be in later years with all of the amusement park rides on and around a man-made mountain at the back, and a larger pond, dubbed ‘Friendship Cove’, where they exhibited beluga whales.

I look back at my early trip to Marineland and I have to remember that it was millions of people before and since whom, just like I did that day, paid money at the gates that made that park thrive and grow.

More than a decade later, while working as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, I received a call from citizens in the region, wondering why I wasn’t writing anything about great mammals from the oceans being held captive at Marineland when, at the same time, I was writing about fish being contaminated with toxic chemicals in our Great Lakes.

It was a good question so I went to our file folders on  Marineland in The Standard’s newsroom library and one of the first stories that caught my attention was one from September 9th, 1967 with a headline reading; ‘Baby Jane Upset, Injures Herself’.

A photo from a 1967 story in The St. Catharines Standard, showing a pilot whale called “Baby Jane” smashing herself against the walls of a watery dungeon-like enclosure at Marineland in Niagara Falls

The story, believe it or not, began with the words; “The only pilot whale captive in Canada has suicidal tendencies.”

“Baby Jane, a 700-pound whale at Marineland and Game Farm in Niagara Falls,” the story continued, “charged head-on into the metal bars of a holding tank gate yesterday while being prepared for a medical examination. … The whale then smashed into the wall of the tank with blood gushing from a gash in her head, writhed wildly about and almost threw her massive body out of the water.”

The story accompanied a stark photo of the whale, lifting herself out of the water in a steel-bar tank that looked like an underwater dungeon, and leaning her massive head against a cement wall.

For more than five decades, cars and buses have been packing the sprawling parking lots of Marineland in Niagara Falls. ‘People wouldn’t be coming here if they didn’t like it here,” the park’s late founder, John Holer, would often say.

That story and photo, I must admit, broke my heart, and I scribbled words beside it that are still there on a photo copy I have of it to this day. “Whatever happened to Baby Jane,” I wrote with the title of an old psychological horror film in mind featuring Betty Davis.

By the time I read that story and received a call from animal advocates urging me to write about marine mammal captivity at this park, I had gone on whale watch excursions off the cost of Cape Cod, Massachusetts where I had experienced the awesome sight of whales and dolphins gliding through the surf in their natural environmental.

Around the same time, I was also invited to listen to a former Marineland trainer, Dan Long, speak about his concerns around marine marine mammal captivity at a public meeting in Niagara Falls.

Among the many disturbing things he shared about his experience as a trainer at the park, he talked about the time the death of  one of the “star attractions” at Marineland, a “killer whale” (more accurately known as an orca) named “Kandu” he said he had become quite attached to, and how he could hear the sound of a chainsaw cutting the whale apart before the pieces were buried somewhere in or around that man-made mountain at the back.

While Long was mourning the loss of the Kandu he bonded with, the park operators then named another orca Kandu and the show went on.

I began writing stories about all of this and to the credit of Henry Burgoyne, The Standard’s publisher at the time, and my managing editor Murray Thomson, they only asked that I make sure I had checked all of my facts before printing them at a time when, in the eyes of most politicians and many other media outlets, across Niagara, Marineland founder John Holer as a giant worthy of knighthood in the local tourist industry.

For many years, animal activists would hold rallies along the busy road in front of Marineland and would often be ignored. That may finally be changing.

I interviewed John Holer a number of times in over the years to come, including during a few lengthy sit downs on the park property, and almost every time he would wave his hands around and say, in so many words; ‘Look at all of the people here,’ and there were always a lot of people, coming in through those gates from a sprawling parking lot that was jammed full of cars and buses.

‘I don’t make them come here. They like to come here,’ he would say. In other words, so much for the relatively few former Marineland employees and citizen activists whose questions and concerns I was raising with him during our interviews.

Regardless of how we feel about John Holer and the many years of animal captivity at his park, he had a point that is inescapable at least going back to that time in or around 1970 when I showed up at Marineland and bought tickets to get in for the show.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

The legendary CBS  journalist Edward R. Murrow quoted that line from a Shakespeare play during a radio broadcast he did in the 1950s on then U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, the populist demagogue whose communist witch hunts were then haunting America.

“The actions of (McCarthy) have caused alarm and dismay … and whose fault is that,” asked McCarthy during that equally legendary broadcast. “He did not create this situation … He merely exploited it. And rather successfully. Cassius was right,” Murrow concluded as he quoted those words from Shakespeare. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

A humpback whale breaching off the shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Go out with the Dolphin Fleet, docked at Provincetown on  the Cape and see these great animals in their natural habitat.

That is the case whether we are talking about politicians at the national, provincial or U.S. state level, or at the local level that we don’t like. We can’t simply point the finger at them when it was so many of us who are responsible for them being there.

It is also the case for a place like Marineland.

Marineland would not have grown into the giant attraction it did over the decades had it not been for the countless millions of people who paid money to go through those gates.

That was one of the main messages I wanted to share during an interview I did for a documentary film called ‘The Walrus and the Whistleblower’ that made its debut on CBC TV this past Thursday, May 28th.

By the way, if anyone out there remembers the pilot whale Baby Jane who was one of the captive mammals at Marineland in the late 1960s and for who knows how many years later, and if you have any idea what ultimately happened to her, please let me know through an email to drapers@vaxxine.com .

Perhaps there is still a Marineland trainer (the only trainer named in the story I referred to above was Gerry Mitchell) or other park employee from that period who may have some information that answers the question I scrolled down more than three decades ago on a copy of the story; “Whatever happened to Baby Jane?”

See a trailer for this full-length documentary ‘The Walrus and the Whistleblower’ by clicking on the screen below – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37ftUo7P0YE

To read a news commentary on the documentary, posted on Niagara At Large this May 25th, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/05/25/new-film-focuses-on-former-marineland-trainer-and-whistleblower-phil-demers-his-epic-battle-with-an-iconic-niagara-falls-amusement-park/

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

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

One response to “Marine Mammal Captivity Has Thrived With the Money Millions of Us Paid at the Gates of Parks like Marineland

  1. You are correct of course Doug, to say, that people who poured thru the gates were culpable…But people are ‘wising up’ to animal ‘attractions’ and are now, bit by bit, looking at them with a more cautious eye.

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