Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Another Beluga Death at Marineland Highlights Media Failures

Ceta-Base is a website that tracks the worldwide inventory of captive marine mammals. In some countries, including Canada facilities are not required to release or even keep complete inventory records of their 'collection' or make them available to the public. Typically, most marine parks operate in secrecy and arrivals, births and especially deaths are often not made public. Ceta-Base uses various sources of information such as import/export permits, news articles and eyewitness accounts and photos to piece together complete inventory lists for aquariums from around the world, including Marineland.

This past week Ceta-Base broke the news that a male Beluga whale named Beyli had died at Marineland on August 24th. No announcement was made from Marineland about the death. Three days later the local media picked up the story of the Beluga's death and Marineland was forced to issue a statement:

"We are sad to confirm that Beyli, a beluga whale, passed away recently. Beyli was close to 40 years of age and died of natural causes as a result of old age. Throughout his life with us, Beyli was in excellent health until his passing. Beyli was one of the first beluga whales to join us in 1999. He arrived at Marineland from a military facility in Russia. Since that time Marineland has built the most successful beluga breeding facilities in the world offering scientists and the public unique opportunities to learn about this incredible species."

Marineland's statement was published in the local QMI Agency owned newspapers in Niagara as well as the Toronto Sun and syndicated online at which are both QMI properties. The local newspaper published a response to the Beluga's death from activist Mike Garrett which was edited out of the Toronto Sun and Canoe stories. Local talk radio station CKTB also reported on the death providing nothing more than Marineland's statement.

Marineland's Beluga program got off to a rocky start when they petitioned the Federal government for permits to capture wild Beluga whales off the coast of Manitoba in the late 90's. Marineland had requested to capture four females and two males, juveniles between the ages of 2 and 4. Public protest erupted over the captures and the Federal government refused to grant Marineland the permits to capture whales within Canadian waters.

Marineland turned to Russia where there are virtually nonexistent regulations for capturing wild marine mammals and no import permits required by Canada. According to Russian activists Marineland's original Belugas were captured from the Sea of Okhotsk by a Russian hunter also responsible for butchering Belugas for the Japanese whale meat market. The first Belugas were captured in 1994, including Beyli and were shipped to Marineland in mid 1999.

Marineland's claim that Beyli is close to 40 yrs old at the time of his death would put his age at capture around 20 years old in 1994. This goes against Marineland's own original mission to capture juvenile whales. All aquariums capture juvenile cetaceans to ensure they can breed and exploit them for years before their premature deaths in captivity. Marineland expects the public to believe they went all the way to Russia to capture a middle aged Beluga whale. The media doesn't question this logic.

All media outlets who reported on the story failed to question the validity of Marineland's statement or ask why Marineland did not announce the death at all until it was made public by Ceta-Base. They did not question Marineland's claims that Beyli was close to 40 years old nor did they ask how many other Belugas have died at the Niagara Falls facility and why they hold the world's largest collection of captive Belugas in the first place. In fact, no questions were asked at all. If any of the media outlets who reported on the story had bothered to do any research at all they would have discovered Marineland's statement that Beyli was close to 40 years old and died of 'old age' is an outright lie. Simply regurgitating a press release seems to be what passes for reporting these days and failing to ask even sensible questions highlights the problem with the media when reporting on Marineland.

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