Marineland Is a Hellhole

There’s a Place I Know in Ontario Where the Sea Lions Are Buried in Mass Graves

By Brad Casey

Marineland, Niagara Falls’s premier tourist destination, was opened in 1961 by John Holer. At the time, John was a portly Slovenian immigrant who couldn’t find work when he arrived to Canada. With what little money he had, and what little English he could speak, Holer built two water tanks and acquired three sea lions. When he opened Marineland’s doors, admission was 25 cents per person. In the 52 years since then, Marineland has expanded to include a large collection of animals, animal shows, and a theme park with over a dozen rides. His is the kind of story that gives one hope, and makes one look nostalgically to the past when things were simpler, right? No. According to an exposé headed by Toronto Star reporter Linda Diebel, Marineland is rife with animal neglect and poor facility conditions that have led to an ever-evolving series of depressing stories, distressing events, and grim accounts from Marineland employees. Not to mention the protests, lawsuits, and public overload of bleeding hearts.

In the original Star report, a group of former Marineland employees came forward with allegations that the park suffered from poor water quality. They also noted that the park was understaffed and mentioned several cases of animal neglect. Doesn’t sound so hellish at first, right? Well, the water in some of the facilities was turning green and causing seals to lose their vision, and one of them even had an eye pop out of its socket when it barked because the water eroded its eye lens away. Several dolphins were losing their skin, which was coming off in chunks in the pools. A baby beluga named Skoot contracted bacterial meningitis and was then attacked by other whales that threw her into a stone wall and killed her. After that, she was pulled from the pool by two trainers and "convulsed and died in their arms.” There is even a logbook from a former Marineland supervisor, who wrote that water was coming up from a sewer near Friendship Cove that was so corrosive it ate the tires off a pickup truck.

But Marineland doesn’t limit their severe conditions to aquatic animals. There are also land animals that get to feel the pain, and their problems are even more grim. According to this article, Marineland has a cramped collection of 15 bears. They share four dens and are underfed. They have to fight for corn pops, which people throw at them, and occasionally eat their own young. There was an incident where one bear was killed by four other bears as a crowd observed.

Then there’s the deer. The deer at the park suffer sores from the concrete grounds and sometimes break their legs, at which point, instead of euthanizing the injured animals, park owner John Holer has allegedly resorted to shooting them with a shotgun while sitting inside of his truck. According to the former supervisor of land animals, Jim Hammond, Holer once shot a sick deer in the neck, drove home, and then when Hammond called Holer to tell him the deer was still alive and choking on its own blood, Holer told him to finish the job with his knife. Hammond said it was like “trying to cut into concrete” because the knife was so dull. The Star, who initially reported on all of this, was unable to confirm Hammond's claims regarding the incident, as Marineland would not comment on it. Holer’s response to these allegations of gruesome killings has simply been along the lines of an Elton John-inspired “circle of life” type statement.

And who is John Holer? According to this article no one who knows John Holer wants to talk about him. That same article tells of how, one time, John bought a neighboring trailer park and waited five years to evict everyone, allegedly driving through the community daily to harass the residents. Then one woman killed herself on eviction day by putting a bag over her head and filling it with helium. He demolished the trailer park for a future Marineland expansion. John also had six of his dolphins seized from Marineland, because he caught them illegally. He has threatened to run over protesters with his car, and he once beat up an escaped sea lion, dragged it into his car’s backseat, and then made that sea lion his star attraction.

Since the scandal hit Marineland, there have been numerous protests. There was the slightly banal one where the singer of the original Marineland jingle demanded that her voice be taken out of the song. Then there was the ongoing series of protests that started with a group of about 150 people storming inside Marineland, and ended with celebrations in the parking lot where the crowd listened to Snap’s “I’ve Got the Power,” as someone named Spandy Andy breakdanced in a spandex Onesie. Unfortunately, despite public pressure, the province can’t do much in terms of regulating Marineland, because strangely enough there are no regulations in Ontario surrounding sea mammal captivity. How you decide to destroy a sick or dying animal is your own business. So, everything Marineland has done so far is perfectly legal.

There was an inspection by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums back in August, another in October, and a report released by the same group in November, but guess what? They found nothing wrong with Marineland. So case closed, right?

Well, there was a report in October of the lone killer whale at Marineland bleeding from its tail constantly. And how has Marineland responded to this report? By suing the former trainer who leaked that story to the press for over a million dollars. And just to keep things interesting, they also sued a protester for more than a million bucks.

You’d think that by now you know every horrible thing there is to know about Marineland, right? Well, there’s still that pesky little issue of the mass graves on the Marineland property. In the four mass graves wedged between Bear Country and the Welland River (which happens to be a clean water source for the Niagara region) there is estimated to be over a thousand dead animals that have been carried by backhoes and dumped into a rotting pit. Marineland has thankfully been ordered to stop using the mass graves until the Environment Ministry has inspected them. Which is great, especially in light of an account from a former employee. He said that after a whale was buried, he and another employee had to dig it up two weeks later because they forgot to take a brain sample. He describes the experience as being “elbow deep in the pit, in a reddish orangey sludge, and we both kept coming up to vomit.”

Lately, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has ordered a complete overhaul of Marineland in an attempt to make it seem like less of an animal POW camp. Strangely enough, however, the order was made months ago and was kept secret until now. This is the diamond in the pile of shit that a lot of people have been waiting for, but still, this story is ongoing and I’m sure Marineland will find another way to bum us all out again before long. Owner John Holer has been quoted in the original Star report as saying that he takes care of the animals at Marineland “better than I would take care of myself.” I think the only way Marineland won’t depress people any more is if he holds true to that promise and throws himself in a festering pile of dead dolphin flesh.

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