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.