Police Charge Marineland for ‘Unauthorized Use’ of Whales & Dolphins for ‘Entertainment Purposes’

‘During (a Niagara Regional Police) investigation, it was found that dolphins and whales were utilized for entertainment purposes during the month of August, without being authorized to do so following an amendment to the Criminal Code under Bill S-203 on June 21, 2019.’                                                                            – from a news release circulated this October 13th by the Niagara Regional Police Service

(A Note to NAL readers – This post was updated shortly after 6 p.m. this December 13th, with the inclusion of a response to the police charge from Marineland)

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted December 13th, 2021 on Niagara At Large

A few of the countless animal activists who have protested in front of Marineland over the years. File photo by Doug Draper

Going back at least 30 years, to my earlier days as an environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, animal activist groups in Niagara and elsewhere were accusing the operators of the giant Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ontario of exploiting majestic marine mammals like dolphins and whales like clowns in a circus.

All those years later, the Niagara Regional Police Services (NRPS) appears to be lending some substance to this complaint by activists by taking time this Monday, December 13th to issue Marineland a charge following more than a month-long investigation.

The NRPS summarized the charge and investigation leading up to it this way in a December 13th news release –

In October of 2021, 2 District (Niagara Falls) detectives commenced an investigation into allegations of the use of captive cetacean at a Niagara Falls theme park (Marineland).

During the investigation, it was found that dolphins and whales were utilized for entertainment purposes during the month of August, without being authorized to do so following an amendment to the Criminal Code under Bill S-203 on June 21, 2019.

On Monday December 13, 2021, detectives issued the following charge to the corporation of Marineland:

– Use captive cetacean for performance for entertainment purposes without authorization pursuant to a licence contrary to 445.2(4) of the Criminal Code.

Marineland will appear at the Robert S.K. Welch Courthouse on February 14, 2022 to answer to the charges. (End of news release.)

One of the first things that came to this reporter’s mind when I read the NRPS news release was a report on Marineland that a nation-wide animal protection group called Zoocheck Canada came out with in 1998.

The report was titled ‘Distorted Nature – Exposing the Myth of Marineland’, and just as the title suggests, a good part of the report spoke to what Zoocheck argued was the perverse picture visitors to the park were painted of these great ocean mammals as they were made to perform circus-like tricks.

At total of 13 marine mammal experts from Canada, the United States and other countries contributed to the Zoocheck report after they visted Marineland to view marine mammal exhibits first hand.

One of those experts, Dr. Naomi Rose, a Marine Mammal Scientist for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), described what she saw of the dolphin displays at Marineland this way

“The dolphin show,” Dr. Rose said in the Zoocheck report, “was almost devoid of biological information. About three or four pieces of factual information were imparted (e.g., a dolphin has 88 teeth; demonstrating fluke presentation, a medical behavior), but the show was accompanied primarily by background music and non-informational exhortations to the audience (e.g., “Clap your hands!”).

“Behaviors included high jumps, a basketball game, the trainers swimming with the dolphins and being propelled by them through the water, and other common “tricks.” It was very obvious that the animals made special accommodations to the limited surface space when they performed the high jumps, particularly when all three animals jumped together.”

Another one of the experts, Doug Cartlidge, a formerly employed in the commercial zoo industry in England, Europe, and Australia as a trainer with dolphins and killer whales, and as a Manager, Curator and Director of Animal Training, put it this way –  

“Dolphin shows were performed simply as circus shows with virtually no attempt to educate or explain anything about the dolphins.”

One might ask, what took police so long to charge Marineland?

Good question but in complete fairness to police, they can only work with the laws that are on the books and it wasn’t until 2019, when Canada’s Trudeau government passed the Whales and Dolphins Act which bans any further capture of marine mammals for parks like Marineland, and which calls for tougher protection rules for those mammals that remain in captivity, there wasn’t much that law enforcement bodies and the courts could do.

What is tragic on that score was how long any Canadian government took to pass marine mammal protection laws that have been in place in Europe and even in the United States for at least two or three decades now.

And as much as many want to put all of the blame on Marineland’s owners and operaters, what about the large hordes of people who have taken themselves and their children to this amusement park over the past almost six decades now to view these great mammals displayed in this cartoonish manner?

As I have long argued, much of the responsibility belongs to people who fork out their money to support exhibitions like this. They are the willing enablers.

On a typical summer day in decades gone by, Marineland’s sprawling parking lots were  choked with cars and buses bringing people to the ticket gates. File photo by Doug Draper

According to newspaper reports earlier in the day , Marineland had yet to respond to the charge police. 

But this now in from Marineland –

In a statement Marineland shared with some media outlets later this December 13th, it denied the police charge.

“Our animal presentation contains marine mammals undertaking behaviours they exhibit in ocean environments,” the Marineland statement reportedly reads.

“These behaviours are combined with an educational script delivered by Marineland staff, providing a foundation in understanding of these important marine species.”

The Marineland statement continues as follows – “Marineland understands why ideologically driven activists would file a police complaint, and appreciates the pressure the Niagara Regional Police were put under to lay such a charge,” Marineland said in the statement. “We look forward to the opportunity to defend ourselves in a court of law where the feelings of non-experts are not treated as facts and the truth prevails.”

Niagara At Large will continue to follow what happens here in the weeks and months ahead. Stay Tuned.

To read the report Distorted Nature, click on http://www.zoocheck.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Distorted-Nature.pdf

To report a piece Niagara At Large posted in 2019 about the passage of the federal Whales and Dolphins Act and what it means for amusement parks like Marineland, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/06/12/at-long-last-canada-passes-a-bill-that-will-one-day-end-the-keeping-of-whales-and-dolphins-in-captivity/

This is where these marine mammals belong – in their natural environment. You can get on a whale watch boat and see whales and dolphins there. Or watch many of the great nature documentaries that have been produced on them.

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


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