Marineland, a marine park in Niagara Falls, Canada, has been ordered by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to stop burying animals on its grounds. Former Marineland employees told The Toronto Star that the park—without proper permits—had been shoveling animal remains into mass graves for decades, with “two of them containing ‘more than 1,000 animals.’” The graves are said to include “whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals and walruses, as well as bears, bison, deer and other animals at the park.”
Last August, The Toronto Star published an exposé on multiple animal welfare issues at Marineland. The paper interviewed eight former employees, who described animal suffering brought on by a pattern of neglect, chronic staff shortages, and poor conditions. Among the incidents alleged to have occurred:
- Five female dolphins swam almost continuously in murky green water in a concrete pool over a period of eight months in 2011-12. “‘Their skin fell off in chunks, their colour darkened and they refused to eat.’” Just before the show season began in May 2012, their water was changed.
- Two sea lions were repeatedly confined in dry cages—once for over two months—in an attempt to limit harm to eyes already damaged by poor water conditions. Video footage reportedly shows them writhing in pain or plunging their heads into a bucket of clean water. One eventually lost the lens from one eye.
- After repeated exposure to unhealthy water, one of the park’s harbor seals went blind.
- When the former land animal supervisor advised the owner that new bears at the park would need to be quarantined to guard against disease, the owner refused, citing a lack of space. Some of the bears turned out to have mange and lost all of their hair.
- The same supervisor was ignored when he advised that newborn bear cubs be separated from older males. One day, staff discovered the cubs gone—devoured, the supervisor believes, by the adult bears.
- A baby beluga died after a brutal two-hour assault by two adult male belugas, while an untrained guide radioed for help that never came.
Last October, AWI protested a move by Georgia Aquarium and its partners SeaWorld and Shedd Aquarium to import 18 belugas taken from the wild in Russian waters. AWI suggested that the US aquariums instead relieve Marineland of some of the 40 or more belugas reported to be languishing in appalling conditions there. (See Fall 2012 AWI Quarterly.)
John Holer—who founded Marineland over half a century ago—denies there is any problem with the water quality, staffing, or level of care, and has sued one of the former trainers quoted in The Star for a sum in excess of one million dollars, claiming defamation. Meanwhile, concerning the graves, the Environment Ministry has given Marineland a strict timetable to carry out a series of orders, including a comprehensive assessment by an environmental firm.