A video produced by a US-based animal rights group alleges animals abuse at the beleaguered Marineland theme park in Ontario, this time with a focus on the park's beluga whale population.
Last Chance for Animals (LCA), a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that investigates allegations of instances of animal abuse at zoos and theme parks across the world, released the five-minute video and an information package yesterday on their website.
In the report, LCA claims Marineland is guilty of a number of offenses contrary to the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) Act—the regulatory body that governs the treatment of animals in the province. The allegations include improper medical treatment of beluga whales, isolation of a calf to the point of emaciation, and violence between the animals due to the cramped enclosures they're kept in. Marineland has stated in a press release provided to VICE that they deny all allegations and that the LCA report was "knowingly" fabricated.
The LCA video follows investigations in the past few years which have typically focused on the killer whale population at places like Seaworld and Marineland—controversies that have sparked projects like the celebrated Blackfish documentary film that looked at the abuse of killer whales in captivity.
According to Adam Wilson, director of investigations for LCA, the evidence was gathered between the summer and fall of 2015 by Marineland employees working at the park. Since the publication of the report, LCA has filed a complaint with the OSPCA regarding the mistreatment of the animals. The OSPCA told VICE that there will be an investigation, but could not give any further details.
Last year, new legislation to protect marine mammals in Ontario was passed, which is set to go into effect this spring. Wilson argues that minor steps are probably not going to make a large difference in the treatment of animals at the park. Rather, he says that the parks need to end altogether.
"I can't speak as to why [taking care of the animals] is not a priority of them, but to me it says that the health and welfare of the animals doesn't matter. It's just about being able to sell tickets so people can throw fish into the mouth of belugas," he said.
"More regulations are not the answer to the problem at Marineland."
What LCA and other activists want is full-on ban of the buying, selling, and capturing of wildlife like beluga and killer whales. Phil Demers, the former Marineland mammal trainer who made headlines in 2012 for his work bringing attention to the treatment of animals at the park, says that Bill S-203—a piece of Canadian Senate legislation looking to phase out the captivity of dolphins and whales—is the kind of law that's needed.
"These types of places are on the decline," he told VICE, suggesting in his opinion that public sentiment against Marineland has shifted against them. "If you look at the video, it's a wasteland. People are not going because they know what's happening there, and I think 2016 is going to be a critical year for getting the legislation we need passed."
Demers has been involved in a legal battle with Marineland since February 2013, when he was accused of breaking into Marineland and attempting to steal Smooshi—a walrus whose close relationship with Demers is well-documented. While Marineland denies all of his allegations, an investigation done by the Toronto Star a year prior discovered similar mistreatment of animals as compared to those alleged by Demers.
When contacted by VICE for comment on the investigation and its allegations, Marineland provided a press release that alleges the LCA report is part of a plan by "radical" animal rights groups to bring attention to a petition for the government to take Bill S-203 seriously, with questions as to why LCA would take so long to reveal the info.
"If the 'group'' actually believed the allegations were true it is unbelievable that they would wait almost four months to make any report to the OSPCA or anyone else of the alleged 'abuse,'" the press release reads.
Marineland has also posted photos and videos of some of the whales cited in the investigation to its Facebook page as a way of showing the animals are in good health.
"My personal opinion of Marineland is that it is one of the worst facilities in the world for treatment of its animals," Naomi Rose, a marine mammal specialist for the Animal Welfare Institute, a nonprofit focused on addressing animal abuse, told VICE when asked about the conditions at the park. "Just the fact that they have 46 belugas in three enclosures is outrageous. Your head explodes when you first hear that, if you have any understanding of these animals in captivity or their needs and welfare."
While Rose notes that she was not present for the investigation conducted by LCA, and cannot comment directly on the state of the animals featured in their video and report, she did say that she has visited Marineland multiple times and was extremely bothered by the condition of the animals. She also adds that the behavior observed in the LCA video report—particularly regarding the animals rubbing against the concrete floor of their enclosures until they started bleeding—is not normal behavior for the animals.
While protesters against Marineland have been fined in the past, the organization itself has never faced any significant opposition or been challenged with legal action in the past.
The LCA activists say that Marineland only continues to operate as it does because it has gone unchallenged by authorities for so long. Wilson has hopes that will change with the release of more of these type of reports.
"They've never faced enforcement, they never really had to, so there's no desire to actually make a difference in the quality of [the animals'] lives," said Wilson. "That has to change."
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