January 11, 2017
Taking a Look at the Damage
I wanted to post some thoughts that have been running through my mind as of late. This is more of a blog than an article, as I am far from a professional writer, or marine biologist. Instead I’m just someone who fell in love with whales about thirty years ago. Fell so in love with them that I set out to get to know them and try to teach myself everything I could possibly learn. For the longest time, I was content with what I had learned because nothing new was really coming up. However, in the past five years I have managed to learn so much more about orcas than I could ever possibly imagine. I love it. I love learning about the animal who has brought me so much joy over the past thirty years.
One of those the things I’ve learned is just how cruel captivity is. For the longest time, I’ve always known that the Ontario park, Marineland, was not a good place. When I was younger I had a dream that I wanted to become a killer whale trainer, but I never wanted to do that job at Marineland. I aimed for Sea World. At the time, I fully believed that Sea World was far better than Marineland. In some ways it still is. The situation for their animals, is the same as it is at Marineland. I know that now. That curtain was lifted years ago. For once, I’m happy I didn’t attain my dream. For once, I’m happy I didn’t have the guts to go after it. I will never tell my daughter to not go after her dreams, but I will tell her to be sure about them. Not to be sure that she can attain that dream, but to be sure that is the dream she wants, and if she does….go after it balls to the wall.
But what validated my misgivings about Marineland? Actually it wasn’t a what, it was a who. Former Marineland trainer of 12-years, had had enough of what he was seeing happen in the park. To neglect, to poor water quality that was effecting the animals health, and stories that would knock your socks off. His name is Phil Demers, and his story was told through the Toronto Star in August of 2012 (https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/08/15/marineland_animals_suffering_former_staffers_say.html). I remember sitting and reading it at my desk at work and bawling my eyes out. I wasn’t so much in shock, but my heart broke for those animals, for Phil who had to walk away from Smooshi, a beautiful female walrus who had attached herself to him. He did it for her. For all those animals, in order to break the silence on what is really going on at that place. I know it couldn’t have been easy for him, as if I had followed that dream, it wouldn’t have been easy for me either. Phil walking away and taking such a huge chance at exposing the truth, is one of the most heroic and selfless acts anyone could have done. He’s now facing a massive lawsuit from Marineland (http://www.savesmooshi.org/). Strangely, not really related to the article and the backlash that has come forth since the release of the Toronto Star expose, but for erroneous accusations that I cannot believe are still being fought to this day. Charges of plotting to steal a walrus, (that would be Smooshi), and so many other messed up crap. He isn’t the only one to break their silence. Christine Santos, and Jim Hammond also came forward of stories about the place, and are also facing lawsuits. Theirs have yet to see inside of a courtroom.
Since 2012, so much has transpired at that park. Activists are getting hit with lawsuits, film student, writers, newspapers, and warnings to anti-cruelty groups to not trespass on their property have all gone out. Demonstrations outside of Marineland still take place, fundraising efforts, and symposiums to help educate the public on the dangers of captivity. These are the things that have Marineland shaking in their boots.
Before I continue on, I want to tell you how I got into going out to the demonstrations. When everything came to the surface, I really wanted to go, but being in a public service job I had concerns. For one, if things got out of hand, and arrests were going to be made, I would lose my job. I am also an introvert, and have trouble being around strangers and crowds. I didn’t really know anybody there, other than Phil Demers, and another activist, Mike Garrett. I technically didn’t know them. I had only talked to them on Facebook and Twitter. I’m much more comfortable being behind the computer. I didn’t get out until May of 2014 for the opening day demo at Marineland. I was shy and a bit nervous. I had worked hard on my signs, and just wanted to get involved more. What got me to that point…Oddly enough two people did. John Lennon and my grade 7 & 8 teacher, Mrs. B.. Yes, I’m aware of what a strange combination that is but wait for it. I was driving a few days before the event, and at that time I still wasn’t sure if I could get the balls to go, then “Give Peace A Chance” by John Lennon came on the radio. Obviously it’s not about animal activism, but it is about having your say and asking for peace and even protesting. It made me think. I wanted peace for these animals, for the people who were being sued for speaking out for these animals, and to do that, I had to go. During that drive, I remembered back in grade 8, when we were having career day coming up. My teacher had us think about where we wanted to go that would best suit our aspirations of a future career. Of course at that time, I wanted to be a killer whale trainer. I loved how behind me she was on this because it was a strange career to go after. Something most kids probably didn’t think about. So we wrote a letter to Marineland, asking if they could talk and show us what it took to become a trainer. Like what degree I would need, what sort of physical training, etc.. They never wrote back. If I’m not mistaken, we even called, and the answer we got was “we don’t do that.” They weren’t willing to help a young teenage girl to aspire a dream to work with animals that they proclaimed to love? It was that moment that if it wasn’t for Mrs. B and her help, that I realized, things happen for a reason. I remember her support and I drew from that even though it didn’t have that much to do with going to a demo. But I got the balls, I went, and then I went again a week later to my first ever “Free Kiska” demo. A year later at the opening demo, I had my three-month old daughter with me. She’s been to three demonstrations so far and she’s not even two yet. In that time, I’ve met wonderful people, whom I have come to care for and have the privilege to call my friends. I’ve learned from them, and I admire them. I’ve become inspired by them. This fight, I’ve engaged in, is because of them. I saw the importance of using my voice and my self-taught knowledge to help these animals. I doubt I would have stayed so vocal without them. I hope if they are reading this, you know who you are.
In that time, captivity has claimed many lives, from Sea lions, to dolphins, belugas and orca. There are health issues that plague captive cetaceans that wouldn’t necessarily plague them in the wild. Captive cetaceans spend more time at the surface because the pool that they are living in, is too shallow and far from what they are accustomed to in the wild. In one case, Kandu, a male transient orca who resided at Sea World in Florida died of encephalitis from a mosquitoes. His death was painful and tragic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trekA7p3hs8). Gudrun, a female orca, was often used as Sea World’s photogenic whale. She had the perfect dorsal fin and markings and would prefer to use her as their mascot whale. Even posing with children for photo ops. She’d haul out and strike a perfect pose, even while pregnant. Posing for long periods of time would put a lot of weight on her body and that of her unborn calf. Her undoing would be because of this and would result in the death of not only her third unborn calf but eventually her own. The calf was still-born, so the staff had to remove the dead calf from Gudrun, and in doing so she ended up hemorrhaging internally resulting in her death. Problem was, that she was being bred right after giving birth, with no time to allow for her body to heal properly. In the wild, orcas breed at least four years after giving birth. Marineland currently only has one orca, named Kiska. Kiska has been at Marineland since around 1980, and was captured in Icelandic waters, and then sold to Marineland. While at Marineland, Kiska had given birth to five calves, all male, except her last calf, Athena, who was her only daughter. Her first calf died just two months after his birth. Kanuck, Kiska’s second calf, was 4 years old and died of traumatic shock in 1998. He was separated from his mother and kept indoors in what is referred to as the barn. An indoor warehouse with small holding tanks. Her third calf, Nova, was about 4 1/2 years old when he died. Hudson, her fourth calf, lived the longest of all five, making it to just 6-years old. Athena was about 4 1/2 as well at the time of death. Marineland has a record of 17 orca deaths, and 3 miscarriages. In the wild, a female orca’s average life span is 60-80 years, some have made it longer than 80. Male orca’s life spans are that of 50-60 years, sometimes longer. The captive industry is hard pressed to tell you those averages, as the averages in captivity are significantly lower, about 18-25 years, with some exceptions. Falsifying information that has been scientifically proven by renowned and respected marine biologist from around the world, is just part of the smoke and mirrors of the captive industry to make it seem their animals are in a better environment. They’re not.
So why do we continue to believe that these animals thrive in captivity? That’s a great question. I don’t go. I will not buy a ticket to a zoo or an aquarium. I simply refuse to support these places and my child as well will not support these places too. With the release of the film “Blackfish” which Chronicles the life of captive orca, Tilikum, and what lead to the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau, questions have been answered regarding the captive industry. The stress these highly intelligent animals face, from having their teeth painfully drilled and flushed out daily, to painful endoscopy procedures, nevermind the lack of mental stimulation that orcas would have no trouble finding out in the wild. Instead they are in these boring tanks, that are too small for them, in makeshift-unnatural pods, living with food deprivation so they will perform their tricks for the paying patrons. Some lash out at each other, and even lash out at their trainers. These animals know. They know when another whale is upset, or a trainer is getting frustrated with them. They know when the food bucket is getting low on fish, they know when they’re in trouble for not following instructions properly. They just know. They are sentient beings, with emotions like our own. Maybe even more complex. Animals like this, do not belong in captivity. From all the trainers who spoke in the documentary “Blackfish,” said the same thing, Tilikum loved to work, he liked to please his trainers, and was actually a great whale to work with. But he snapped. Tilikum had caused three deaths in his time in captivity. Something completely unheard of in the wild. There is not one documented case of an orca harming or killing a human being in the wild. Not one. The first death took place in Victoria, British Columbia at Sealand of the Pacific, a small facility where Tilikum was housed with two older females, who used to attack him at night while locked in a small tin floating box. A trainer, Keltie Byrne, slipped into the orca pool, and was then dragged in by one of the orcas, and had drowned because the three orcas would not let her go. Some are clear that it was Tilikum who pulled in Keltie, and others say it was the two females, and that Tilikum just participated. I suppose we will never truly know for sure. After the death of Keltie, the owner sold off the three whales and close Sealand down for good. As former Sealand director, Steve Huxter, said in the movie, “the magic was gone.” All three were bought by Sea World, with the understanding that Tilikum was going to be used for mostly breeding and not performance. Well he was used for both. He was their cash whale. Siring up to around 14 calves through Artificial Insemination. In the late 90’s he struck again. A drifter named Daniel Dukes, managed to climb the fences at Sea World, and hid until after the park closed. He decided to go for a swim in Tilikum’s pool, and was found the next day, naked and draped over Tilikum’s back. Parts of Duke were mutilated and was not just a simple drowning. The final death, which would be the one to change the captive industry, was Dawn’s. During a Dine with Shamu show, Dawn was having a great show with Tilikum, until a certain point. He did a perfect perimeter peck wave, where he swims with his pectoral flipper out waving to the people. She had used her whistle to signal that he was done but he kept going. He then got disciplined by not receiving his fish right away. He could also tell that his bucket was near empty. During a session on the shallow slide-out, Tilikum took his revenge. This wasn’t play, this was anger. He grabbed Dawn by the arm and pulled her in. She was brutally killed.
I cannot blame Tilikum for all these incidents, I cannot blame Keltie or Dawn either. I can however, blame his situation. Being in captivity, is similar to being in prison. You don’t have your freedom. You can’t just leave and go home whenever you’re done there. You’re stuck. Pacing you jail cell, or swimming in circles. After 33 years in captivity, Tilikum found his freedom on January 6, 2017, when he passed away. It’s so sad that there wasn’t a way to get him to the ocean and into a sea pen before his death, as all captive orcas deserve to feel the natural water and rhythm of the ocean before they die. It breaks my heart that he couldn’t feel that.
With that said, Sea World is closer to ending their captive orca program than before Blackfish came out. The orcas who are currently imprisoned at the three Sea World parks, will be the last. They have taken note that times have changed and that the people no longer want to see these animals in these places anymore.
As for Marineland, well…we aren’t that lucky. Unlike the publicly owned company that Sea World is, Marineland is privately owned. Owned by one man, John Holer. The man behind the lawsuits, the man behind the controversy. He’s there sitting in his truck, at every demonstration, watching to see if the protesters disobey court orders given to Mike Garrett, so that he can sue more people, or ban Mike from every having future demos. It’s rather complicated to be honest (Mike Garrett’s situation can be found on http://www.marinelandindepth.com/). When it comes time to fight, Holer hides behind his lawyers. Instead of understanding that Canada’s only captive orca, Kiska, is not in a good situation, and help us help her, he instead throws lawsuits around like he’s giving out candy on Halloween.
Kiska will indeed be the last orca to be held in Ontario. Bill-80 was passed in 2015 prohibiting orcas from being imported, exported, kept and bred in the province of Ontario. However, Kiska was not included in this Bill, which is ridiculous, as this is was all for her. To get her moved either to a sea pen to live in the ocean, or at least to another park where she could be with other orcas. Anything was better than staying at Marineland. The fight continues for her. That isn’t something myself and my friends are willing to just give up on. Two possibilities are on the horizon. A federal bill S-203, and a petition going around for legislature in Ontario to amend Bill-80 to include Kiska in the orca ban. Why is this important to get her included? Because there is a chance she will see the ocean again. There is a chance that she will feel the tide changing. There’s a chance. The Whale Sanctuary Project is in the works and moving quickly with the intention of creating sea pens for captive orcas to retire in the ocean where they belong (http://www.whalesanctuaryproject.org/). This is why it is important for us to keep fighting for Kiska. We don’t want time to be up for her, the way it was up for Tilikum.
I only spoke briefly about Kiska so far. I spoke about her calves, and even where she was captured, but not her recent life. Kiska is about 42-43 years old, and in the past four or five years has been retired from performing at Marineland. When Athena, her only daughter died in early 2009, Kiska was left with Ikaika (Ike) from Sea World who was there on a loan. Ike and Kiska had to be separated as they didn’t get along. Concerned for Ike’s mental and physical health, Sea World demanded that he be returned to their park. Marineland refused. Sea World took Marineland to court, and won. Ike then returned to Sea World in 2011. That was the last orca Kiska has seen. She is the ONLY orca who lives in 100% complete solitude. Some will argue that she is not the only orca living alone, but she is the only one who is 100% alone. Kshamenk and Lolita are two other orca’s who live at two different parks, without other orca companions. The difference between Kshamenk, Lolita and Kiska is simple. Kshamenk and Lolita have dolphin companions with them in their tanks. Kiska has nothing. Kiska’s life right now is swimming around in a counter clock-wise pattern until her next feeding. She has no shade from the summer sun, nothing to really stimulate her mentally. Just the odd belly rubs, and maybe a tire on a thick rope at the odd time. She has NOTHING!!! It breaks my heart. I have been in to see her and check out her situation, and I have to tell you this is the one whale that has managed to really get to me. They all get to me, but Kiska is here. She’s forty-minutes away, and in a tank with nothing. Alone. How can that be good for her? How can people see her and think, “aw she’s pretty. She must be enjoying retirement.” That’s not it. These animals are not meant to be alone, they don’t retire in the wild. They keep swimming and jumping and hunting. Guiding the next generation of their family to carry on their traditions. Kiska has no family. She doesn’t do a damn thing. It’s heartbreaking. She breaks my heart. She inspires my mind. She inspires me to keep fighting for her. To fight for what she deserves. Her freedom.
(Kiska; Photo courtesy of google images)
Marineland is also home to over 50 beluga whales. For starters, who needs 50 beluga whales? They’re all crammed in three different places around Marineland because the “home” (I use that term extremely loosely), that was built for them, got to be too small. So there are two in the show pool (which is ridiculously small), and about 10-20 in Friendship Cove, which is where Kiska is located (they are not visible to each other, as there are four separate pools with a massive “rock” wall dividing them). The rest are jammed in Arctic Cove, which was built for the Beluga display. They also have 5 bottlenosed dolphins, also located in the small show pool up at the front of the park. The five dolphins are kept in there with the two beluga whales. There are two very small round side pools attached to the slightly larger show pool on each side. The two belugas barely fit in the one, and the five dolphins are crammed into the other. One dolphin, Echo, in particular is covered in rake marks. Raking is something whales and dolphins do during times of aggression. It’s raking their teeth across the flesh of another. This happens a lot in captivity out of frustration, and for the targeted whale or dolphin, there is no place to go to avoid this. Marineland also has 6 seals, kept in a small indoor tank with no natural air, or natural light. They are retired as well. You will often see them swimming with their eyes tightly closed, and you shouldn’t have to ask yourself why while standing there watching them, because you smell the stench of chlorine. This goes back to the part of the water quality problems that Phil Demers mentioned in the Toronto Star investigation. The sea lions, and walruses, are not on public display, but instead come out during the show in the show pool. They have five walruses, two males and three females, and they might bring out one or two at the end of the show they put on. Sometimes not at all. More on the walruses in a few.
Marineland also houses, deer, elk, bears, various bird species, bison, fish, and a partridge in a pear tree. Ok maybe not the partridge. It is with the land animals, that 11 counts of animal cruelty charges have been laid by the OSPCA. Charges for two types of deer, elk, peacocks, guinea hens, and the bears. The first five counts came this past November (2016), regarding a peacock, guinea hens and the bears which include the following: – One Count of permitting a peacock bird to be in distress; -One count for failing to comply with the prescribed Standards of Care for a Peacock bird; – Two counts for failing to comply with the prescribed Standards of Care for Guinea Hens’ and -One count for failing to comply with the prescribed Standards of Care including failing to provide adequate and appropriate food and water for approximately 35 black bears. The current six charges stemming from January 9, 2017 news release are as follows: -One count of permitting elk to be in distress; -One count of failing to provide prescribed standards of care for elk; -One count of permitting red deer to be in distress; -One count of failing to prescribed standards of care for red deer.; -One count of permitting fallow deer to be in distress; -One count of failing to provide prescribed standards of care for fallow deer.
No mention of the marine mammals. Interesting. Now don’t get me wrong, this is great news for these animals. If found guilty of these charges, Marineland will face a life-time ban on owning ANY animal. This is a huge step in the right direction to get this place shut down. I just wish there was more charges which surrounds the marine mammals. It’s not like there hasn’t been complaints made with photographic evidence to back up those complaints to the OSPCA. There has been. Many, many times. Each time, not just myself, but anyone else I know who have made complaints, have all gotten the runaround. The same excuses. It’s horrendous, that these complaints go unanswered.
In the past two years, one walrus has stood out. Zeus. In the wild, male walruses are huge, robust and strong powerful animals. Males can weight over 4, 000 pounds. We’ve seen Zeus get smaller and smaller in the past few years. He is emaciated. The evidence has been given to the OSPCA, yet nothing has been done regarding this animals health and well-being.
(Zeus May 2016; Photo source: Screen capture posted on YouTube)
So you can see why we are concerned that no charges have been laid regarding Zeus, as well as Kiska. Can you honestly look at these pictures of Zeus, and think that there is nothing wrong with this animal? His estimated weight in these photos is maybe 1,000 pounds. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that nothing has been done about the marine mammals who are stuck in Marineland. Is it because the OSPCA have no clue what to do about them? They don’t have a marine mammal expert in their office to oversee these animals. All they can do is guess. Is it because if they have to seize one of these animals, they have nowhere to place them? I’m sure something can be done as a sort of compromise in regards to that issue. I personally feel that the problem is more they know nothing about these animals and have no idea what to look for. However, clearly looking at Zeus, it should be obvious that something is clearly wrong with him. They don’t really have any excuse when it comes to Zeus, they’ve just done nothing.
I hope that the OSPCA will have more charges coming forth to add to the current 11 that are awaiting to be read in court at the end of this month. I hope any more charges that do come, will have something to do with the marine mammals in some way.
I just want to make something clear here. I don’t want to see Marineland close. What I would like for them to do, is stop keeping animals in captivity. To phase out all their animals, or retire them, perhaps to a sea pen coming near you. The profit just isn’t there anymore for this industry, and Marineland would be much better off, spending the time to repair the rides that they currently have and update them and add new ones. How about being the first North American former aquarium to add an indoor Holographic show that not only teaches true and researched facts about whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals and walrus, but sharks, and manta rays, and eels, and immortal jelly fish. Teach and show what humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, and all sort of whales that cannot be found in captivity are like. Holograms can go so far now that technology is where it’s at and improving all the time. There is just so much that this place can do with the land that it has that can improve their profits, Niagara Falls profits, and not harm or even worry about the care of their animals, if only they just stopped keeping animals. Concentrate on less of zoo/aquarium type atmosphere and focus more on a theme park with tons of rides, and other attractions. The profit will be there, if not the same, then more so than it is now.
It’s time to evolve. We do not need to see these animals to care about them. Children have grown up loving dinosaurs, and yet never seen one before. We can do the same with cetaceans and pinnipeds, and other animals like elephants, rhinoceroses, and lions, tigers, and….yeah I’m not saying what you thought I was, and hippos. It’s time to respect the animals who inhabited this planet before we came along. Fix the damages that we have created. Return what is not ours.