Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Marineland Year in Review

If Marineland thought 2016 was surely going to be the year things finally calmed down for the facility which has been under siege for nearly 5 years, they were wrong. 

Marineland made the news in 2016 arguably more than any other year in recent memory, creating for themselves international headlines for all the wrong reasons.  The year wrapped up with animal cruelty charges finally being laid against the park by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

According to court records, Marineland owner John Holer stepped down as President of the company this year due to undisclosed health issues and is no longer considered an employee of Marineland.  Holer was seen however and recorded at the facility throughout 2016 including being captured in a now infamous deleted tweet by Manitoba Senator Don Plett.

Despite launching another SLAPP style lawsuit against a teen from California, Marineland made no major movements in the various existing civil lawsuits they are currently involved in.  Several of these cases are now over 4 years old and have not reached the discovery phase.

In 2016 Marineland saw the potential markets for their valuable Beluga whales get dramatically smaller.  The United States passed new regulations banning the import of Beluga whales and their offspring that have been previously captured from the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia.  Many of Marineland's whales are from this wild endangered population making them ineligible to be imported to U.S. facilities.

Vancouver Aquarium's Beluga tanks emptied with the sudden death of their only two on-site whales. This has re-ignited a fierce debate in British Columbia on whether or not to finally end the cetacean captivity program at Vancouver Aquarium.  With this current environment, it is unlikely Vancouver Aquarium will be filling their tanks with Marineland's Belugas right now.

Let's take a look at some other Marineland related highlights from 2016:


Ontario Captive Animal Watch hosted a polar bear plunge into Lake Ontario.  The event which drew dozens of participants helped to raise money for the ongoing legal costs of Phil Demers, one of several people currently entangled in civil litigation with Marineland.  Demers, an ex-trainer at Marineland helped to bring intense worldwide media attention to the plight of the marine mammals at Marineland beginning in 2012.

Last Chance for Animals, a California based animal advocacy group published parts of their undercover investigation of Marineland.   It contained disturbing photos and video of the conditions of the Beluga whales at the park.  Marineland served a notice of libel to LCA and to this website Marineland: In Depth for simply reporting on the investigation.


Over 5000 people signed an online Parliament of Canada e-petition supporting the passing of Senate Bill S-203 currently making its way through the Senate of Canada.   The bill, introduced by Senator Wilfred Moore would phase out the captivity of cetaceans in Canada and has passed second reading in the Senate.   It is now being studied at committee. 


Marineland continued to try and use the publicly funded legal system to silence anyone speaking out against the park.   They filed their ninth lawsuit in an Ontario courtroom against Zach Affolter a young marine biology student from California.   The lawsuit which was seeking a million dollars in damages has since stalled and centered around an unfinished online film about Kiska, the last remaining captive orca in the country and residing at Marineland.

Nearly 500 people turned out for the annual opening day demonstration at Marineland, many holding signs supporting Senate Bill S-203.  This would mark the first of two public demonstrations held outside the park this year.


Photos taken from visitors attending Marineland at various times and locations showed just how poor attendance at the park was during the first half of the season.  As in past years, there were no new attractions introduced and many parts of the facility appeared to be closed due to maintenance issues. This seemed to spawn bad reviews on various online review websites from disgruntled visitors.


Zeus a 13 year old male Pacific walrus became the subject of international concern after horrible images of him surfaced at Marineland.   The photos and video appear to show the walrus severely lethargic and emaciated, especially when compared to a healthy male walrus belonging to a wild population.  Marineland denied that Zeus was in poor health.

The city of Niagara Falls and their perceived bias towards Marineland was again under scrutiny after the city's cash strapped transit department pulled the plug on some anti-captivity bus advertising.   The ads were placed on city buses by the Texas based ocean advocacy group Fins and Fluke and paid for through a crowd funding campaign. Even though the ads did not mention Marineland by name the anti-captivity message was deemed 'too controversial' by city officials and the contract to run the ads for several weeks throughout the summer was cancelled.   


Approximately 200 demonstrators returned to protest Marineland's animal captivity program during the Labour Day weekend.  This marked a return to the former tradition of past Labour Day demonstrations. Throughout the protest several families could be seen leaving the park, deciding not to go in after speaking with protesters.  A return to a full schedule of demonstrations is planned for 2017.


Making huge international news, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) laid 5 counts of animal cruelty charges against Marineland.  The charges stemmed from a complaint and investigation by Last Chance for Animals which had filed it on behalf of a former employee at Marineland.  LCA's investigation would bring to light even more disgusting images of animal care at Marineland.    Marineland is scheduled to appear in court in January of 2017.

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