Friday, December 5, 2014

2014 Year in Review

In 2014 Marineland continued to tread water. Gone were the high priced gun for hire public relations people that were temporarily the spokespeople for the park in 2013. The facility abandoned their attempts to rehabilitate their public image and continued to launch lawsuits against anyone who offered a negative opinion about Marineland or the care of its animals. For many observers, attendance seemed to be at an all time low and promises made the previous year of new multi-million dollar attractions and investment went once again unfulfilled. Despite launching two new lawsuits towards the end of the year virtually no progress was made in existing litigation.


A provincial byelection was held in Niagara Falls and pro Marineland Liberal candidate Joyce Morocco was defeated. Months later financial disclosures from all candidates revealed that Morocco received campaign contributions from Marineland as well as the winner of the byelection NDP candidate Wayne Gates.


Marineland was investigated by the Ontario Ministry of Environment regarding discoloured water originating from their property that was being expelled into the Welland River via Pell's Creek. It was determined the discoloration was due to sediments disturbed by construction on the property. Fourteen years prior, Marineland had been investigated and ordered to stop expelling wastewater into the very same creek.

Mountain View Elementary School in Hamilton Ontario cancelled a planned Spring field trip to Marineland after receiving complaints from mom Jennifer Jamieson. After hearing about her 9 year old son's class trip to the captive animal facility she immediate petitioned the school to make a more compassionate and educational choice for their field trip.


It was revealed the town of Pelham Ontario was sending children to Marineland via their summer camp program. In local media, activist Mike Garrett called on town mayor Dave Augustine to speak out against the practice but the mayor refused.  Augustine was re-elected in the October Municipal elections.


Marineland's 53rd season was met with the traditional opening day demonstration. This year's demonstration theme was #SaveSmooshi in reference to the continued captivity of female Pacific walrus Smooshi. The demo also featured a march by some through the city of Niagara Falls to the facility where the demo converged with approximately 500 people.


Activist Mike Garrett and others began a new season of leafleting in the busy tourist districts of Niagara Falls. They engaged the public in conversation about Marineland and distributed thousands of leaflets containing information about the facility until the end of Marineland's season in October.

A peaceful and family friendly #FreeKiska demonstration was held outside Marineland. Activists called on the park to free the female orca who swims alone at the facility with no other animal of her own kind to socialize with.  Kiska is Canada's last remaining captive killer whale.

Facing Marineland in court attempting to have a temporary injunction thrown out against him, activist Mike Garrett was ordered to pay Marineland $10,000 in costs after he was unsuccessful in getting the injunction tossed. Garrett was successful in defending Marineland's attempt to further restrict the activist's tactics and he also prevented the injunction from being applied to other demonstrators and expanded in scope.


Noticeably scarce crowds, broken facilities and scathing online reviews prompted local media to visit Marineland and explore why the park seemed to be virtually empty. Entitled "A Morning at Marineland" and written by John Law the piece gave an honest opinion about the condition of the facility from a paying customer's point of view and it wasn't pretty.

Photos surfaced showing female orca Kiska in what some allege appeared to be declining health. Several media outlets showed the photos and featured the opinions of experts commenting on what appeared to be weight loss and teeth damage. Marineland would later launch a lawsuit against one of the media outlets who covered the story, online news site Digital Journal and writer Elizabeth Batt.


Ceta-Base, an online captive marine mammal database reported that as of September 2014 five Beluga calves had been born at the facility this year while three had died.


Internationally known and highly influential Electronic Dance Music artist Deadmau5 posted a lengthy profanity laced message on his own website calling for Marineland to finally put an end to it's captive animal program and build more amusement park rides.

A municipal election was held in Niagara Falls with a majority of pro Marineland candidates being returned to city council.


It was revealed Marineland had launched two new defamation lawsuits against online news sites Digital Journal and The Georgia Straight. Each lawsuit sought $600,000 in damages and named the authors of the articles in the suits as well. Shortly after news of the SLAPP suits broke, Digital Journal published a retraction of its story about Kiska.

It was announced there would be a musical comedy about Marineland playing at the 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Come "Sea Your Friends" at Marineland

Sadly all of Marineland's orcas end up on the necropsy table and then buried in the back of the property.   Many of them young.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mike Garrett Discusses Latest Marineland Lawsuits

Anti captivity activist Mike Garrett has launched a podcast.  On the latest episode the 7th and 8th Marineland lawsuits are discussed as well Mike interviews Annelise Sorg about opposition to the Vancouver Aquarium.

You can check out the show here.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Marineland: The Musical?

It appears someone has turned the farce that is Marineland into a musical.   Billed as a disco musical comedy, Everyone Loves Marineland is set to debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2015.  Judging by its teaser poster, the musical looks to be a tongue-in-cheek take on the captive animal facility that has become the joke of Niagara Falls. Let's hope producers understand how litigious Marineland can be.

Stay tuned, more details, in the meantime you can follow the production on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marineland Suing Georgia Straight, Travis Lupick & Vancouver Free Press

Marineland: In Depth has learned Marineland has filed a $600,000 defamation lawsuit against The Georgia Straight an online news website and weekly paper based in Vancouver, and one of its writers Travis Lupick.  Marineland is seeking $500,000 in damages for defamation and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages, the Straight's parent company the Vancouver Free Press is named in the lawsuit and it stems from an article Lupick wrote for the Straight in April of 2014.  Marineland filed their statement of claim in St. Catharines Ontario, a copy of which Marineland: In Depth has obtained.

The article written by Lupick was about five harbour seals sent to Marineland by the Vancouver Aquarium in 2005. The article was published online at The Georgia Straight and distributed in print in a weekly paper.  It features comments from 3 former Marineland trainers describing the declining health of the seals upon arrival at Marineland.  One seal passed away while the four others allegedly went blind due to poor water conditions according to ex staffers. Both Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium have refuted the claims.

In Marineland's 11 page statement of claim they allege the seal Pepper did not die as claimed but rather died in 2006 before the alleged incident in the article. The other seals named Rolo, Curry, Poppy & Squamish were not blinded as a consequence of their treatment by Marineland and remain "generally healthy" currently living at the facility.  They also allege claims by former staffers are false and have been disproved in publicly released documents or reports, none of which were mentioned in the article.  Marineland also alleges Lupick made no reasonable attempt to contact Marineland aside from an email to their general address which did not allow reasonable enough time for the park to respond.

Marineland further alleges comments by former head trainer Phil Demers are unsupported and that the defendants ought to have known "Mr. Demers has only a high school education and no formal education or qualifications that would permit him or the defendants to reasonably rely on Demers' allegations regarding water quality, water chemistry, ozone, chlorine, the health of any animal, the cause of any animal's condition, if any, or any matter that is normally address by a veterinarian who is expert in marine mammal care."  Demers worked closely with a variety of animals at the park during his 12 year tenure.

Marineland's allegations have not been proven in court.

This is the second lawsuit involving an online news website, last week it was revealed Marineland was also seeking $600,000 in damages from Digital Journal and one of its writers for a story about the health of Kiska, their last remaining captive orca.   In each suit the defendants were served a notice of libel demanding a retraction before Marineland commenced further action.   Unlike the Digital Journal article, the Georgia Straight article has not been pulled and the news site would not comment on the lawsuit.

Marineland has filed 8 separate lawsuits in the last 24 months against activists, newspapers, websites, journalists and former employees seeking a combined total of $15.4 million in damages. None of the cases have gone to trial.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

UPDATED: Marineland Launches $600k Lawsuit Against Digital Journal

Marineland has launched a lawsuit against the online news site Digital Journal. The lawsuit which was filed in Ontario Superior Court in St. Catharines, seeks $500,000 in general damages for defamation and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages. The suit names the Canadian based Digitial Journal and Elizabeth Batt, the author of an article that appeared on the website in July of 2014 about Marineland’s last remaining orca, Kiska.

Batt's story raised questions about Kiska’s health after several photos were released showing what appeared to be the 42 year old female orca in an ailing state. The article featured several opinions of former killer whale trainers from Marineland and Seaworld as well as comments from marine biologist Dr. Naomi Rose, who has studied orcas extensively. Marineland: In Depth and several other media outlets also covered the story including CBC TV and CHCH TV whose stories also featured comments from former trainers and Dr. Rose. A month after the article was published Marineland sent Digital Journal and Batt a notice of libel demanding the article be removed and a retraction published or they would face legal action.

In Marineland’s statement of claim, a copy of which Marineland: In Depth has obtained they allege statements made by individuals in the article were false, misleading and defamatory and has damaged the reputation of the facility. Marineland claims both Digital Journal and Batt should have known the statements were allegedly false and the park was not properly contacted allowing for a response. Marineland also claims Kiska, who has been captive at the park for nearly 4 decades is not sick but actually ‘thriving’.

In the last two decades over a dozen 'thriving' orcas have died at Marineland causing a complete collapse of their breeding program. In 2011 Marineland was successfully sued by Seaworld who repossessed their orca Ikaika.  The male killer whale was on loan to Marineland. Seaworld cited concerns for Ikaika’s health if he remained at the Niagara Falls facility as the main reason for repossession.  Since Ikaika was moved back to Seaworld, Kiska has remained alone.

This is the 7th lawsuit Marineland has commenced in the last 2 years. They are currently also suing 3 ex-employees, 2 activists and the Toronto Star newspaper. Legal observers widely consider the multi-million dollar lawsuits to be SLAPP suits designed to silence criticism of the facility.  Despite a similar defamation lawsuit against the Toronto Star launched early last year, that case has yet to even approach the discovery phase.

UPDATE:   Digital Journal has since published a retraction.   No word on whether Marineland plans to drop the lawsuit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Orca Awareness Project

The Orca Awareness Project from Joey Cheers on Vimeo.

Love this short animated video by Vimeo artist Joey Cheers.  Parents often ask how they can approach the complex topic of captivity with their young children.  This is a good start.