Beluga Palooza!!!!!

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Welcome back! I wanted to talk about a very special event taking place in Toronto on November 1st, 2017 at the Opera House. It’s a fundraising event to help the Phil Demers who is being sued by Marineland.

Belgua Palooza

The event is being put on by an amazing non-profit organization called Ontario Captive Animal Watch (aka OCAW). They are supporters of Phil Demers who spoke out against the treatment of the animals being held captive at the Niagara Falls amusement park called Marineland (Feel free to Google Toronto Star Marineland Investigation article). Phil took a huge risk after leaving his job of working with the Walruses for 12 years in order to speak out against the many issues that were taking place behind the scenes. The OSPCA have spent a large amount of time investigating this facility, however, with the lack of experience with Marine Mammals, have never placed any charges regarding the Belugas, Dolphins, Seals, Sea Lions, Walruses, and the one lone Orca. However, the OSPCA this past November charged Marineland with eleven counts of animal cruelty (guinea hens, peacocks, deers, and bears). The charges were dropped this past summer due to the excuse of “lack of public interest”. I can assure you, there was tons of public interest in this matter. With all that aside, Phil knew that once he went public to the Toronto Star, he would be sued by his former employer. And sure enough, he is. In turn, he is also counter-suing the facility, and it is extremely imperative that we get this lawsuit going in order to allow Phil and his lawyers to examine Marineland Owner and Operator, John Holer (google his name too) on the stand.

Directly from the Event page, here is the event description:


Come lend support for Phil Demers in his ongoing battle against Marineland!

This is sure to be an exciting evening full of fantastic music and events!

We are extremely pleased to have OMFG (Old Man Flanagan’s Ghost) and Kevin Foster in attendance to lend their exceptional talents in support of this event.

There will also be a silent auction, 50/50 draw, special guest appearances and a Q&A with Phil Demers.

In 2012, Phil Demers and several other former employee’s at Marineland came forward to expose their concerns regarding the treatment of the animals at Marineland. In doing so, they are now facing multi-million dollar civil suits – but have still not wavered.

Ontario Captive Animal Watch has been involved on several levels throughout this fight and we are also very concerned for these animals. We stand firm in our position and support these brave individuals, through and through, who have come forward and risked it all for those animals.

It is our position, that through these civil suits, we may be able to obtain pertinent information and documents to further assist the animals in the future.


*Tickets $35 (or $40 at door)

*19+ event

*Cash bar

*This is a charitable not for profit/educational event. All proceeds will go to Phil Demers to continue his fight for those animals.

The Opera House

735 Queen St. E

Toronto, ON

M4M 1H1

7pm to 10:30pm

If you look back on some of my past writings before I officially started this blog, you’ll see some of my writings about Marineland.

So if you’re in the Toronto or southern Ontario area, or even further but believe in the cause, please come out and join us at this amazing event. I’ll include links at the end so no googling is required.

I first got into this cause around the time the Marineland article came out in the Toronto Star, but I’ve always loved whales and all marine mammals ever since I was seven years old. This is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart. All animals matter and it’s important that after decades of research of animals in captivity, the only thing that we have learned is, they just don’t belong in captivity. I’m not trying to be preachy here, but many people now days don’t want to see this barbaric practice (ok that was a little preachy). Places, like Marineland, that don’t seem to care about anything but profit, need to stop and evolve.

Thanks so much for reading, and please check out the links below, and hope that you all will check out the event.


Kiska; The World’s LONELIEST Orca in Captivity…


Meet Kiska. She resides in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in Canada. A very unusual place to find an ocean mammal. However, since 1979, Kiska has been stuck in captivity. Right now, she desperately needs your help. I guess you might need a bit of background on this poor girl. Well, I can give that to you.

Kiska was captured from the Arctic Ocean around Iceland back in 1979, around the same time infamous orca, Keiko, was. There is even speculation that Kiska and Keiko could be related somehow. No proof is available however.  Both were taken to Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Kiska has remained there, but Keiko was sold to a theme park in Mexico, where he would later capture the hearts of children and people all over the globe as the whale who played Willy in Free Willy. Keiko was successfully released and got to live out his days in the ocean, Kiska will never be able to feel that.

She has had 5 calves in the 31 years she’s been imprisoned in captivity. None of them making past the age of 4 1/2, except one. Her first calf was a male, never named died at 2 months old of unknown causes. Her second calf, another male, named Kanuck was 4 1/2 years old and died of Traumatic shock. Nova, another male, was 4 years and 8 months and died of starvation and pneumonia. Hudson, he lasted the longest out of all of Kiska’s calves. He died of meningitis at 6 years, 1 month and 5 days old. Kiska’s only daughter, Athena was 4 1/2 when she died of unknown causes.

At the time of Athena’s death, it was just Kiska and Sea World’s Ikaia, who was on loan for a breeding program. They had hoped that he and Athena would breed when Ike reached maturity, that didn’t happen. The two of them were nothing more than tank mates. So the focus turned to Kiska and Ike. However, no time was given when Sea World came up to check on their bull orca, and had grave concerns for his mental and physical health. They began a lengthy battle with Marineland over their orca. They wanted Ike back to protect him and his well-being. In 2011, Ike would be returned to Sea World in San Diego, and Kiska would be alone.


She has not seen another orca in over 4 years. She hasn’t seen another species of any kind in 4 years. She is 100% alone. People have argued with us that Lolita and Kshamenk are alone too. However, that isn’t the case. Yes, they are without another orca to keep them company, but both live with dolphins in their tanks. They at least have companionship. Kiska, has nothing and no one.

You might be wondering why is she alone? Why isn’t the Canadian government doing anything? Problem is, we have no federal or provincial rules for zoos and aquariums. The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is privately run. CAZA claim there is nothing wrong with Marineland, and keep issuing the run-down park with license to run. The OSPCA has guidelines and rules that are not being enforced, and Kiska is being ignored.

2. (2)- Every animal must be provided with adequate and appropriate medical attention (Kiska has no teeth and her dorsal fin will soon be non existent if not removed. How long must she endure these health issues until she receives adequate and appropriate care?)

3- Every animal must be provided with the care necessary for its general welfare (keeping a female orca in a tank, alone is simply criminal)
6- Every animal must be provided with adequate and appropriate

(a) space to allow the animal to move naturally and to exercise (orcas naturally swim 100’s of miles per day…..Kiska however swims in repeated circles rimming the edge of a concrete tank. Hardly “natural”)

(b) sanitary conditions (on several occasions we have noticed plastic floating in her tank, filthy bottoms, murky dirty water)


2- Wildlife kept in captivity must be provided with a daily routine that facilitates and stimulates natural movement and behaviour. (again, sadly not the case for Kiska)

3- Wildlife kept in captivity MUST BE KEPT IN COMPATIBLE SOCIAL GROUPS to ensure the general welfare of the individual animals and of the group and to ensure that each animal in the group is not at risk of injury or undue stress from dominant animals of the same or a different species.

Kiska’s health is on the decline. She doesn’t have a whole lot of time. Unlike Keiko, Kiska cannot be released back into the wild and sea pens simply do not exists unless you have a millionaire willing to put the money up to build one. Then it takes hundreds-of-thousands of dollars a year to maintain the pen, feed the animal, keep a staff around. It’s just an impossible dream. Kiska doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for a dream to come true for she wouldn’t get to leave that pen. Her teeth are so bad, that she wouldn’t be able to properly hunt or defend herself. Also, we have no idea where her family would be. She is simply stuck.

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I am not a supporter of captivity by any means, but the more I’ve seen and learned from experts, I have come to the sad realization that some orcas, cannot achieve freedom. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and take a breath and say, “not every place is horrible.” It’s like eating crow.

Right now, we have no access to Kiska until May when Marineland opens. It’s killing us who are fighting hard for her. We do it because we love her and we want the best for her. Marineland isn’t what’s best for her. She barely gets any social interactions. People would walk up to see her at Friendship Cove, see that she was just lethargically swimming in a circle over and over, or just floating at the surface, and walk away after five minutes. The staff would feed her, and give her a quick rub down, then be done with her. Occasionally, she would get a dirty old tire with some rope and bungee cords wrapped around it to play with. That was it.


Talking to Marine Mammologist, Dr.Naomi Rose, this past summer about Kiska’s health, and she didn’t have anything good to say. There simply wasn’t anything good about Kiska’s health. Kiska is clearly suffering from weight loss, which is clear by the depression just behind her blow-hole. A condition called “peanut head”. Marineland claims that she’s “lazy”. Lazy whales put on extra weight from not doing anything. Kiska is losing it from not doing anything. What is wrong with that picture??

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Her dorsal fin, looks mutilated. Like she has had some issues with possible gangrene. There was definite concern over the state of her dorsal fin.

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These concerns are very real. When the pictures were exposed to local news station, CHCH in Hamilton, they brushed it off. Taking Marineland’s word over expert opinion and photographic evidence. The one trainer, even admitted on the air, that Marineland doesn’t own a scale to weigh Kiska. Yes he says her weight is just fine. How would he know this? He referred to her as “lazy”. Orca’s are far from lazy animals. Kiska is approximately 40 years old, nearly 10 years younger than Miami Seaquarium’s Lolita. Kiska no longer does shows or even splash sessions, but Lolita who is closing in on 50 years of age, is still performing 2 shows a day. If there is a problem with Kiska being “lazy”, it’s not her it’s the trainers and the way they are handling her.

Orcas are not lazy animals. One of the oldest orcas on record is 103 years old and still swims and leads her family up and down the west coast.

We continue to fight for Kiska, and we will not stop. It is our job to tell her story and hope that anyone who takes the time to listen or read it, passes it on as well. I’ve mentioned a few times that she cannot be released to a sea pen. So what can we do? We need to press the Canadian and Ontario government to take possession of Kiska, and move her to a more appropriate facility. One where she will not be alone anymore, and one where she will receive proper medical care.

Right now, We are seeking 6,966 more signatures on a petition so that we can have it presented to Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynn. So please take the time to sign the petition and share it with all your family and friends. No animal should suffer.


Thank-you so much!

Faithful Team Kiska member!

Quick piece about Deers at Marineland & Petting Zoo’s…

So my problem with the deer pavilion at Marineland and now other places where kids can interact with deer is this (and keep in mind, children are touching deer and who knows what else, and have a tendency to put their hands in their mouths before you have a chance to wash them). Problem is, that at Marineland you are surrounded by deer, their urine and poop. And what I learned about them this past weekend, sometimes their blood. Their blood can spray or drop on you from their antlers while shedding their velvet. Personally, when a deer is in the process of shedding their velvet, they should be out of the public view. As their blood, can be as dangerous to humans as their urine and poop. I don’t want my child around that.

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1. E. coli O157:H7 – from the feces
2. Leptospirosis – from the urine – can be transmitted through cuts including hang nails – Vaccination produces serological responses, but its effectiveness in protecting against disease, and prevention or reduction of shedding in urine, has not yet been confirmed in deer (2007)

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3. Lyme disease via ticks – an increasing concern – unless the deer are getting tick preventives there is no way this is not a risk – ticks fall off birds so it is a constant concern.
4. human babesiosis – from deer tick
5. human granulocytic ehrlichiosis – from deer tick
6. Mycobacterium bovis (tuberculosis) infection can occur from direct contact with a wound on an animal or by inhaling the bacteria in air exhaled by animals infected with M. bovis
7. Tularemia (Francisella tularensis bacteria) – potentially fatal – spread to people from deer by deerflies and other insects (incl ticks and fleas) or exposure of skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth) with deer blood or inhaling dust from contaminated soil

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8. Deer Parapoxvirus – causes scabby, crusty lesions on the muzzle, lips, face, ears, neck and antlers of affected deer – There have been two confirmed cases of deer parapoxvirus infection in humans in the U.S.. Both patients had nicked their fingers while dressing the deer carcasses and later developed pox lesions (scabby crusts) on their hands – Both reported that the deer had not shown any signs of illness at the time they were dressed.
9. Cryptosporidia from ingesting deer feces
10. Giardia from ingesting deer feces.


Next time you go to a petting zoo, or Marineland (even though I strongly advise against either), keep a close eye on yourself and especially your children and remember what type of health risks there are.

Worst Experience of My Life- Marineland, Canada Investigation: Part Two

The last blog I covered the first half of my first investigation of one of the world’s worst aquariums. Actually a list was recently released and Marineland was number 2, behind Miami Seaquarium. I personally think it should be number 1, but I have never been to Miami Seaquarium. I know it’s a horrible place as well. Look up Lolita and her story. It’s as heartbreaking as Kiska’s. It’s time to move on and take a look at the remainder of my time at Marineland.

After we left the deer pavilion, we were still in shock for a long time about what we witnessed. It’s not every day you dodge deer blood flying around because they are doing something akin to self-mutilation. We headed to the bears. Now my memories of the bears were always horrible. Bears are suppose to be these big scary, aggressive predators, but at Marineland they are demoralized and weak. They sit in filthy water, their paddock reaking of feces, and they beg people for stale ice cream cones, which they can purchase at a little hut at the entrance to the bear area. Looking down at the bears sitting at the water’s edge or in the water, looking up at the people, begging for food, was pathetic. Sad and pathetic.

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It wasn’t until I got home and looked at my photos that I saw the sadness in the bears eyes. I have teddy bears from when I was a baby with eyes less sad looking.

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As an animal lover, I have an unexplained passion for orcas and know the most about them. It doesn’t mean that I don’t look at the pictures of the deer and the bears and feel less. I don’t. I look at these pictures of these bears and my heart is in pain for them. This is no way to treat an animal.

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This one photo that my friend took, says it all. Such a very powerful photo, and I wanted to make sure I shared it.

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After we left the bears, we headed over to Arctic Cove. This is where the Beluga whales are suppose to be housed. Instead, they are actually stashed all over the park because there are way too many. At Friendship Cove they were really active, but I accounted approximately eight in the one pool. Give or take. As we approached Arctic Cove, it was public feeding time. This when guest, usually children, pay extra to get up close and personal with a beluga whale by feeding him or her and getting to rub their melons.

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I decided to start counting. I got to twenty beluga whales and decided that number had to be wrong, so I played dumb with the one worker and flat out asked her, and sure enough, she said there were twenty beluga whales in this ONE pool. I managed to keep calm and said, “Oh, that’s what I thought but it looked like more.” Or something stupid. It’s really hard to play dumb with people who are clearly not as intelligent as you are.

My friend and I looked over and saw a man with another beluga whale, and we turned to look but the worker I had asked the dumb question to, asked if we would wait until he was finished feeding that particular beluga whale, as apparently the whale gets nervous. We obliged. Plus we didn’t want to look too eager to see this “nervous” beluga whale. We didn’t get a picture or even a chance to assess this whale. It may have been a missed opportunity, but one necessary for us to keep our cover.

We continued to observe the public feeding of the beluga’s. It’s great to see children smile and see these animals up close, I only wish it was in a different type of environment. I by no means, recommend anyone to partake in this type of interaction. There are just so many things that can go wrong. Beluga’s may not necessarily be aggressive by nature, but a trainer in the show pool was bit and attacked last year. Dolphins at Sea World, have been known to bite park visitors while doing a similar activity. It’s just not safe for your children to be this close.

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My friend also noticed, that they were using Kiska’s pail to feed the one Beluga. As you can see in the above photo.

We then headed to the underground viewing area. Again, there was a lot of leaks and pooling of water. Plus evidence of mold.

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Also present, was filthy water, with dirt and fecal matter, both in the main tank where there were 20 beluga’s, and then in the other tank that was being used as a nursery (and much much smaller than the first tank).

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In the viewing area, which was being used as the nursery, they had crammed in 5 females, and 4 babies. One female was pregnant. My concern was the dirt and fecal matter at the bottom of the tank, as well as the fact that they were all just crammed into a rather small tank.

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I actually found this rather sad. There wasn’t really any place for a mother and her calf to get away from the others. And it was my friend who managed to get the better pictures of a calf who was banged up. We both noticed it, but couldn’t say a thing to each other as an employee was working observation right next to us.

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It was unbelievable the amount of Beluga whales were stashed throughout this park. God knows if any were packed inside the infamous Barn. The barn is a dank, and indoor space where the animals are kept that aren’t being used, or where they go in the off season. There is no natural light, and often are subjected to fumes from diesel run equipment. It’s a concrete hell. Whether or not there were beluga’s inside the Barn, I counted approximately 40 Beluga whales inside Marineland. They just keep breeding these whales. Chances are some might even be inbred. Recently I spotted a beluga whale in one of my friend’s photos and was concerned about the shape of it’s melon. I have sent off inquiries about it but as of this time, have yet to hear back from any beluga researchers. We have our suspicions that it might likely be inbreeding, if anything at all. When you have 40 beluga whales, it’s going to be impossible to prevent inbreeding.

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It’s just ridiculous that there are so many of one species in one place. My theory is, ever since the Toronto Star article came out two summers ago, that Marineland’s reputation is mud now. They can’t sell their beluga’s. Instead, they are overloaded.

In that number of 40, two of them were in living in the show pool, in King Waldorf’s Stadium.

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Two belugas, live in the right hand side pool. Five bottlenosed dolphins live in the small left hand side pool.

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The so-called show wasn’t much of a show. The MC at the beginning basically mocked the wild animals by talking about the ocean in which they were from. Playing their vocals, to “educate” the public. Granted, the vocalizations of the animals, were the only thing educating about this entire 25 minute show. The California sea lions came out and did the usual comedy routine. The dolphins then came out to do some of the high spots. Earlier, I had spotted the one dolphin who I wasn’t sure if there was skin irritations on or not. We were on an angle and up a bit too high and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a decent photo. At first glance, it looked like a pox virus, but I can’t be sure at all. It very well could have just been the angle and glares of the dolphin’s wet skin. I hope it was nothing. However what we cannot deny are the massive rake marks on Echo’s body.

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Marineland’s one universal criticism is that the park is highly dated. Nothing says more high-tech then using a store regulated, yellow-braided rope to open and close your rusty gates…

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There really wasn’t much value in the show. We really only had one reason to be there. The walrus. The end of the show finale, done by one of the park’s five walrus. My friend had already seen three out of the five; Apollo, Sonja and Buttercup. We were hoping for Smooshi or Zeus. Smooshi is quite famous. She’s a central part of former trainer and whistle-blower, Phil Demers. He had a special relationship with Smooshi who had a series of problems. He’s constantly asking for people to send him photos if they see her in shows. Sadly, she’s rarely used. It might be because of Phil, and it might be because she isn’t well. Whatever the reason is, we are all really worried about her. We would still have to wait to see either Smooshi or Zeus. We were treated to Apollo. He’s a big boy. I’m concerned about the redness in his eyes. It’s a suggestion that water quality is to be called into question.

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It’s a mystery to us as to why the Sea Lions and Walrus’, as well as dolphins are not on public display in between shows.

Speaking of sketchy water conditions. I wasn’t prepared for the last and final spot on our tour. An indoor aquarium, where Marineland uses a former smaller show pool to house their seals. The moment you approached the door to this indoor facility, you are assaulted by the chlorine smell. It was then that I remember smelling it outside of the park, standing on the other side of the Aquarium wall, while I was waiting for my friend to arrive. It’s no wonder, because that place was over-chlorinated. Nothing was more explanatory than seeing the animals who were forced to live in the pool. All of them, had their eyes shut as tight as possible.

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Even when they did open them above the water, some closed them immediately. Aside from seeing Kiska, this was probably one of the most heartbreaking places I had to endure. Inside the aquarium, there was no natural light. There was nothing to enrich the seals or keep them occupied. Just an empty over-chlorinated pool of water.

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Also that caught my attention was the barred-door left open, I couldn’t help but bend down to quickly snap a photo of what was inside. Dry dock. it looked like a small platform for the seals to get on when they were tired of swimming. I’m not really sure, to be honest. It looked just as dingy as the rest of the place we were standing in. Not to mention the rusty concrete walls (to your right).

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One would think with the amount of chlorine we were ingesting, you would expect the water to be clear. Well, you would be wrong. Not only was it not clear, it was disgusting.

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The photo was of the same area, as the top one that my friend took. Actually both are her photos. My other concern was the filter at the bottom of the pool. One I really couldn’t get a decent photo of because of how dirty the water was. I could tell that there was enough room through the grate that could cause harm to a seal. I had once read that a sea lion died when it got its flipper caught in the filter because there wasn’t a small enough grate to prevent it. I’m a bit concerned over that.

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That is the end of this experience. One that I would deem as one of the worst experiences of my life. On an investigators stand-point, it was sadly successful, as we were able to obtain evidence. However, it was bitter sweet. You never go to investigate a place in hopes of finding problems, you go hoping that you don’t. For the animals sake.

Marineland needs to be shut down. The problem isn’t that it’s still running after decades, the problem is the government. Ontario and Canadian government has nothing to do with zoo and aquarium regulations. There is nothing to protect captive animals, and even less rights to captive cetaceans (whales & dolphins) and pinnipeds (seals, sea lions & walrus). One of the things we can do, it spread the word about how awful places like (and especially) Marineland is. The day is getting closer when aquariums and sea prisons, like Marineland, are not needed. People will stop going because people like myself has spread awareness. We’ve put a lot of our beliefs aside, to go in to gather this information for you.

I did not for one moment, enjoy my time at Marineland. I did NOT go in to the park for enjoyment. I went in there, to get information and visual proof of how horrific this place really is. I am getting criticized for going, but sometimes you have to enter the den of the devil in order to bring him down. I do NOT recommend that every anti-captivity person, or pro-captivity person or indifferent captivity person to visit or do their own investigation. It sucked to be there. I will carry that guilt with me, but I did raise awareness to this place. I’m asking and begging you all, not to go and buy a ticket to Marineland, or any other place alike.

As a protester, anti-captivity advocate, and someone who loves orcas so much, it made me physically sick to be inside this place. I did it for Kiska. My friend, does this for Kiska. If someone doesn’t keep an eye on her, or didn’t go in to investigate, then those photos at the beginning of my blog, of her teeth and blow-hole, would never have made it on to the News. Because of those photos that my friend from Ontario Captive Animal Watch managed to take, Kiska’s story is making a global splash. We are Team Kiska, and that means we want her released to a sea pen to live out her remaining days in the ocean where she was kidnapped, or we would even settle for her to be moved to Sea World. She hasn’t used her vocals in nearly three years. She hasn’t even heard another orca in three years. She has given up. She is a shell of herself now. Living out her days, waiting for the end.

This October, Marineland will close for the next seven months before re-opening in May of 2015. For Team Kiska, it will be a long seven months, not knowing if she’s alright. If she’s alive or dead. We won’t know anything until opening day. Not knowing whether she’s alive or not, is going to be one of the most painful things we will ever have to endure. Doesn’t mean we will be silent for her. It’s actually time to push forward.

Check out Ontario Captive Animal Watch (OCAW) on Facebook, and learn about what they’re all about. Also check out Fins and Flukes. If you want to help spread the word about Kiska, you have 11-days to help raise money for Mike Garrett’s legal campaign against Marineland, by purchasing a “Free Kiska” t-shirt, . Check out his campaign at For donations via GoFundMe please visit: or through pay-pal: Also check out for more information. To help former trainer and Marineland whistle-blower, Phil Demers, you can check out

Without people like Mike Garrett, Phil Demers, the wonderful people from Ontario Captive Animal Watch, Fins & Fluke, and Orca United, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We are so close to getting the world aware of the problems with whale and dolphin captivity. So a huge THANK-YOU to them.

Worst Experience of My Life– Marineland, Canada Investigation: Part One

This past weekend, I joined a friend of mine on one of her investigations of Marineland, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I acted as her second set of eyes, investigating right along side her. Catching things that she may have missed, and also helping her blend in a bit more to the unknowing people who think these places are fun to visit.

Usually I’m on the other side of the fence, protesting against this place. This time, I went on the patron side. It was a strange feeling. One of foreboding and lack of comfort. There was nothing comforting about this place. Not for me, and certainly not for the animals. The last time I was at Marineland was about 7-years ago. I’ve never really liked the place. It started when I was little. I had aspirations of becoming a killer whale trainer, and I had only ever been to Marineland at this point, but even then I wasn’t just going to be any killer whale trainer, I was going to be a Sea World killer whale trainer. Before all the anti-caps freak out, I was under the age of 16 and didn’t know better. It’s a dream that I never full-filled. I had mentioned this to former Sea World trainer, who was featured in the documentary, “Blackfish”, Jeffery Ventre on Twitter and he told me he was glad I never lived my dream. He’s right. I would never been able to handle seeing the truth behind the fantasy that these places provide. I’ve been to Sea World Orlando twice in my life. From first glance, it’s still ten-times the facility that Marineland is. But it’s still a bad place. All captive aquatic facilities are bad places. No matter what, you cannot recreate the space, the depth, or the water in the world’s oceans. For animals as intelligent as killer whales, or Orcas, who travel in their families their entire life time, these places are hell.

From the moment we walked in, I felt betrayal to the animals that I love and respect, but I was there for a reason. I had a purpose. To tell their story. This isn’t my story, and this isn’t about me. Truth be told, I’m someone who believes in freedom. I am an anti-cap. This was the first and last time, I will be going to Marineland, or any place like it, since I took the pledge to “Not Buy A Ticket”. This was strictly business.

We didn’t look at the rides, or think about going on the rides. We put no money into the park that we didn’t have to. We didn’t eat or drink anything sold in the park, we didn’t buy souvenirs. We quickly looked in the one gift shop to see how much educational items were for sale. Sadly, not many. A few books, both in English and in French. That was all that I saw.

Our first stop was to see Canada’s only captive orca. Kiska. Kiska breaks both my friend’s heart and mine. She holds a special place in our hearts that we feel the need to be with her to make sure she knows that she has a lot of people in her corner fighting for her. Us being there, was for her. Kiska has been imprisoned at Marineland since the early 1980’s. She was captured from Iceland at the young age of just 3 years old. She’s now approximately 38 years of age and has spent the last 35 years in captivity. Away from her natural family. Away from her mother. In 1992, Kiska gave birth to her first of five babies. Or calves as baby orcas are called. He was a male, with no name. He died of unknown causes at only 2-months of age. Her second calf, Kanuck, was male. Born August 28th, 1994 and died four and a half years later of Traumatic shock. Nova, another male, died of Pneumonia and starvation at 4-years and 8-months old. Marineland denied his death for months after. Hudson was Kiska’s longest surviving calf. He died at age 6 of meningitis. Her only daughter, Athena, was her last calf. She was sick for two days, and then died. She was age 4 and a half years and died of unknown causes in May of 2009.

Sea World had loaned a male orca named, Ikaika, or Ike, to Marineland for breeding in 2006. Although he and Kiska got along well, they never mated. Sea World had grown concerns over Ike’s mental and physical well-being and began a long custody battle against Marineland, which Sea World won. In 2011, Ike was moved back to Sea World, and Kiska has been alone for the past 3 years.

Today, Kiska floats at the surface of her pool. Slowly swimming the perimeter of her tank. Marineland claims that she’s old and is slowing down. The photos provide a different story. Photos my friend took a few weeks ago showed her dorsal fin in horrible shape. When I messaged Marine Mammologist, Dr. Naomi Rose, pictures of Kiska’s dorsal fin, she said;

This isn’t normal at all (and I don’t think her fin looked like this when I last saw her)- it looks like she’s had some kind of infection that has eaten away at the flesh (some sort of gangrene or leprosy-something that caused necrosis of the tissue, so it actually rotted and come away). And this kind of condition could cause additional collapse of the fin as well…”

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My friend also managed to get disturbing photos of Kiska’s teeth. Because of the conditions of her teeth, Kiska ineligible to be released back into the wild with her family. Her only hope is to be released to a sea pen back in Icelandic waters, to live out the rest of her days with the natural rhythm of the ocean and real ocean water. If it ever gets to that. Her teeth are so bad, and because they drilled the pulp out, she has to go through the painful procedure of flushing. They spray into each tooth, flushing out any fish that may be stuck or lodged in, which can cause infection.

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Even more damaging and concerning photos of Kiska came from these first few trips that my friend, an investigator for Ontario Captive Animal Watch, came away with. This one of Kiska’s blow-hole. Just behind her blow-hole, was a deep depression, which was noted by Dr. Rose last September when she visited Kiska. I sent the photos to Dr. Rose, who said that the depression was worse than it was when she saw Kiska.

She is definitely developing ‘peanut head’, which is the depression behind her blow-hole and is a sign of weight loss. She is not in good shape….The situation is just grim.”

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I hesitated at “Friendship Cove”, stopping by the first pool which was loaded with Beluga whales. Clamoring and acting up for the people laughing and smiling at them. Clearly clueless. We made our way over to Kiska. My friend had warned me that the photos were nothing compared to seeing her in person. She was right. With my camera in front of my face, I held in tears and my shock at the horrendous site I saw. Right away, I saw her dorsal fin.

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She stayed at the surface, moving slowly around her tank. I decided to play an audio clip I had found of Ike’s vocals, which were taken at Marineland during his stay. It took both my friend and I a bit to realize that after we played the vocals, Kiska would move faster around her tank and splash around in the one end. She was agitated by it. A sign that she recognized his vocals. The most active she was the entire time we were there. We spent a long time with Kiska. It was just too hard to leave her. My friend took this picture of Kiska, and the look in her eye is defeat. She’s given up.

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We heard they were planning on feeding her just as soon as they finished feeding the beluga’s on the other side. They were taking a long time, and we could tell Kiska was hungry. They finished feeding the beluga’s and started hovering around my friend and I as we waited for her feeding to begin.

Recently, pictures I showed earlier of Kiska’s teeth and her blow-hole made it to local news and out pouring of support for Kiska came out. Marineland was obviously being cautious about who they fed her around. We were pretty sure we were made. They were waiting for us to leave to feed their orca. We decided that we should leave and see if that was exactly what they were waiting for.

We took off for the underground viewing. Stopping first to check out the Beluga whales. One of the first things we noticed was the bird poop, on the inside of the glass. At least we’re assuming it’s bird poop. We just aren’t sure how it got in there. It’s inside and under water.

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The second thing we noticed was the water and the fecal matter at the bottom of the beluga tank.

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Everything was just disgusting. Also, there was a sign attached to the tank about the leaks.

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I’m not an expert on leaks, but I’m pretty sure leaks just don’t seal themselves. Unless you’re counting on the mold and mildew to seal the leak for you. The leaks were clearly visible, as was the mold and god knows what else.

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We then walked over to Kiska’s side of the underwater viewing, and watched her swim around her tank. My friend commented on how cloudy and dirty it was. You couldn’t see the other side of the tank. Kiska swam around, in dirty, murky water.

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Like the Beluga’s side of the tanks, was a pile of fecal matter and dirt. Chunks of stuff was floating in the water as well.13 Blog photo

Five minutes after we stood and watched Kiska, we noticed her going to the side of the pool where she gets fed and we watched her feed from the under water viewing. After eating she got a belly rub and pectoral fin rub down. See how cloudy and dirty the water was.

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During that time, I could see a leak that was actually active.

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After her rub down, she continued to swim slow laps around her tank. I noticed her tail. It didn’t have the smooth look that other orca’s tail flukes had. Not sure if this is something to look into, or if it’s a normal thing. I will be looking into it that’s for sure.

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There seems to be a lot of nicks, and scratches on her flukes. It makes me wonder if there is a necrosis there as well.

I was overwhelmed by seeing Kiska. I had never seen a captive orca in a sadder state than Kiska. She’s been on my mind so much lately. It breaks my heart to see such a beautiful, intelligent, animal in such a sorry state. I’m sadden by this. She shouldn’t be alone, and she shouldn’t be stuck in this stupid, filthy, dirty bath tub.

After seeing Kiska and her sorry state, we ventured over to the deer pavilion. It’s a place where people with their children can come and go, and interact with Fallow Deer. There’s a little hutch in the middle where you can purchase food for these animals and feed them. First thing I noticed was there was no shade of any kind. It was concrete and sandy-like dirt, and no trees. Second thing I noticed was a small child pulling on the antlers of a poor deer while her father encouraged her to do so, just to take a selfie picture of the three of them. No respect for these animals at all. Third, I noticed there was no visible staff. Just in the hutch selling food. The most disturbing, was the blood splatter we saw all over the ground. It was all dried up but still very noticeable.

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We had so much freedom to take as many photos of the blood soaked ground as we wanted. No one noticed us, because no one was around. At first we couldn’t figure out why there was so much blood everywhere. No effort was made to hose it off. Then we noticed it. Both my friend and I admittedly do not know much about deer and their natural behaviours, so the site we saw was horrific. A deer was rubbing the velvet off of his antlers across the cement. Blood was dripping everywhere, and the smears of blood we had seen just seconds before this event now made sense. The deer was violently and roughly scrapping his antlers across the pavement, banging and scrapping. Blood sprayed out at the force, some landing on my friend’s shoe while she video taped the event. I had never seen anything like this.

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We were ready to call the OSPCA right then and there. She instead posted some photos to her social media page and one of the whistle-blowers who was a former trainer at Marineland, Phil Demers, told her that it was actually normal that the deer do this. We held off on calling the OSPCA, but it didn’t make what we saw any less disturbing. What baffled us, was that no one said a damn thing. No one was shocked by seeing this event happen. We are animal people, and we didn’t know that this was normal, you can’t possibly tell me that everyone in the deer pavilion KNEW that this was normal. Most people who visit these places have the IQ of a turd. I’m sorry, that’s harsh, but true. If you think seeing animals stuck behind bars or in small tanks is happy and wonderful, then you’re an idiot.

I looked into it, and Phil was right. This behaviour of shedding their velvet from their antlers is quite normal. With Fallow deers, they bleed during this process. Shedding of the velvet can occur at any time of the year, but usually it’s done on trees and logs. One thing I fail to understand is the sanitary issues. Is there any disease in fresh deer blood? I personally wouldn’t want my child walking through that and petting deers while they’re in the process. My co-worker agreed with me when I showed him the photos. He didn’t understand why Marineland didn’t segregate the ones who were in their shedding process. Personally, I don’t understand it either.

I wasn’t intending for my blog to be so long, but background and the section on Kiska took up a lot more room than I thought it might. So I’ve decided to make this a two parter. Things don’t get any better at the marine-park from hell. If you decide not to check out part 2, then I’ll say this. Don’t buy a ticket to these places. Especially Marineland. It’s an awful place. I don’t have anything against the staff there, as they are just making money to live on. I don’t believe they have any ill-wishes towards the animals they care for and spend time with. I would love to see a massive walk-out, and leaving John Holer, the owner, high and dry. I fear for the animals in this place. I fear for Kiska. She’s giving up, and she’s not in good shape. Between the park’s closed season, October to May, we won’t know what’s going on with her. If she will even make it through the winter. Those seven months, will be so hard to make it through. We will be holding our breaths come opening day of 2015.

Check out Ontario Captive Animal Watch (OCAW) on Facebook, and learn about what they’re all about. Also check out Fins and Flukes. If you want to help spread the word about Kiska, you have 14-days to help raise money for Mike Garrett’s legal campaign against Marineland, by purchasing a “Free Kiska” t-shirt, . Check out his campaign at For donations via GoFundMe please visit: or through pay-pal: Also check out for more information. To help former trainer and Marineland whistleblower, Phil Demers, you can check out

Also you can sign this petition to help Kiska:

Thank-you and hopefully you’ll check out part 2.

I Am An Activist…

I am an Activist

By: Sarah J. Sweedland

I may not be perfect, and I know I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but there is one thing that I’ve always truly loved and still love, and those are these amazing incredible creatures out there called, Orcas. Before I even saw one, I knew there was something special. Something magical about this ocean mammal. I could never quite pin-point it. Then again I was seven years old, but I knew that I loved this animal. I have never seen one in the wild. Only in captivity. I can admit, however, that as a small child, seeing them in captivity always made me smile. That was because of the love I had for this animal, and others alike. What I can tell you is that I have never felt good about them being in these small tanks.

There was one point in my life I wanted to be an orca trainer, or a marine biologist. Both dreams I never fulfilled. I’m not sure why. I can tell you that the only regret I have is not fulfilling my dream of being a marine biologist. I certainly have not regrets about never being an orca trainer. Blackfish star, and former orca trainer at Sea World, Jeffery Ventre told me that he was glad I never fulfilled that dream (via twitter–I really wish I had saved that tweet).

My heart belongs to the orcas. These massive, elegant, graceful, intelligent, social and compassionate animal. It always will.

It’s not just orcas I care about. I care about all animals. Nothing pisses me off more than seeing an animal who is hurt or being abused. My focus is mainly on whale/dolphin captivity, but I will always be a voice for animals as a whole.

Recently, I’ve attended two demonstrations outside of Marineland, Ontario’s fence. I say fence because they bought extra land to keep protestors and demonstrators away from their property. It’s quite the humourous thing amongst us anit-caps in the area. It’s not like it’s a brick wall. That would have been more effective I suppose. Still wouldn’t have kept us away. Anyways, both these demo’s were amazing experiences for me. Ones I will never forget. Not only because I’m being an active voice for the animals that I love and respect, but I’m helping four very courageous human beings as well.

Phil Demers, was a former trainer at Marineland. He worked there for 12-years before finally quitting in 2012 because he couldn’t take seeing the state the animals in the park were in. Water quality was so bad that dolphins were swimming with their eyes closed and their skin was falling off. Seals, sea lions and walrus’ were also affected by the poor water quality. Suffering lesions, eye irritations, and a multitude of other health issues. One sea lion was so bad off that when he coughed, his eye lens fell right out of his eye socket. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Phil to leave these animals behind. He was particularly close to a walrus by the name of Smooshi. Their relationship was a special one. Built on a trust, love and friendship. Maybe even a familial bond on Smooshi to Phil. She relied on Phil so much, like he was her parent. Their relationship garnered media attention. To this day, he worries about her. When he left Marineland, he was told that he could come by and see Smooshi whenever he wanted to. But was denied that after he left. Broken promises. Demers, and a group of other former employees came forward through the Toronto Star back in 2012, that exposed all the issues at Marineland. This resulted in outrage from the public; some defending the park, and some against the park. Owner of Marineland didn’t take to kindly to the negative publicity. My guess is because now he was going to have to spend money on fixing the problems before inspectors came through. Phil’s girlfriend, Christine Santos, was the trainer for Kiska, Marineland’s only orca. She was fired two months after the article surfaced, and she too came forward and shortly after was served with a lawsuit for $1.25 million. This resulted in a lawsuit against another former Marineland employee, Jim Hammond (also $1.25 million), Santos, and Demers. Phil is facing a lawsuit from Marineland of $1.5 million. Campaigns have been done to aid the pair in their legal aid. I’m not privy to how much has been raised, and it’s not my business. I hope that they have raised enough to help them out, and if not, we will keep on raising money. They took a chance to expose the problems for the animals sakes. Three unselfish people who took a huge risk.

You can help them out by going to

The fourth person, wasn’t an employee of the park, but someone who cares about animal welfare. Mike Garrett is associate with the Marineland In Depth personal opinion blog found online. He is a soldier in the front lines as well. Handing out information about the Niagara Falls tourist attraction. Because he cares about the well-being of these animals, he is now facing a SLAPP suit for $1.5 million dollars. Just for spreading the word. A SLAPP suit is Strategic Litigation Against Public participation. What it is, is that it takes away our freedom of speech. It forces you to amend what you say to the public regarding issues. Restrictions can be placed on the person who is facing the SLAAP suit, about what they can say, or what their protest posters say. It restricts their right to give information to the public about an issue. It undermines our freedom of expression. It’s rich companies, taking aim at people who are speaking up against their company to silence them. It’s the king, cutting the tongue out of a peasant, in a way. Money talks, and the people’s rights get to walk. The owner of Marineland doesn’t fight his own battles, but instead pays a legal team to do it for him. All Garrett did was hand out a piece of paper to some tourist leaving the park, that had information about Marineland on it. All of which can be backed up. Because of that simple task, Mike is now restricted from saying certain words, phrases, or slogans on posters. He has to watch not only what he says, but what everyone else around him are saying and doing while at demonstrations. Marineland have restricted his right to freedom of speech. Because Mike Garrett, is not a selfish person, he’s now facing a detrimental law suit all because he respects, and cares about the animals in that park. A SLAAP suit could happen to any one of us.

For John Hammond, Christine Santos, Phil Demers and Mike Garrett, it happened to them. A price to pay for the selfless act of putting the animals first. I respect all four of them for that. I have done my best to donate to their causes to help them out as my way of saying “thank-you” and I’ve spread the word, and stood by them. I will continue to do so.

I’m an activist because I want justice for the animals that cannot speak. They cannot tell their stories. They can only suffer. For us. I focus on whale and dolphins because you cannot recreate an ocean. The tanks they live in, are simply not big enough. Not deep enough, not wide enough, not long enough. Orcas swim up to 100 miles a day in the oceans. Orcas in captivity would have to do over 9,000 circular laps in their pools to get even close to that. You cannot recreate the ocean tide, and rhythms. You cannot recreate the natural sea water that they belong in. Probably one of the most important, you cannot recreate their family bonds. I may not be educated by a school, but I have spent 27 years teaching myself about these animals. I know a lot for someone who is not a marine mammologist, biologist or any kind of oligist. I am someone who has great respect for these animals. I am someone who wants to see an end to captive whale and dolphins. I want to see them free or retired to a natural sea pen. There is absolutely nothing to be learned now after 50 years of having orcas in captivity. If they haven’t learned anything that will help them adapt by now, when all they’ve done is parish, then they are not going to. It’s time to say the show is over.

One day, I will see these amazing mammals out in the ocean. Watching their tall dorsal fins piercing the silky water as they come up for a breath. That mist from their blow-hole traveling through the air. Seeing the water gliding off their sleek black bodies. I feel that when that day comes, I will truly be at home. For nothing or no one gets my respect like orcas do.

For links to understand more:

Sea World Roundtable debate with Marine Mammal Specialist, Dr. Naomi Rose:

My blog on Orcas In Captivity:

You can help out The Marineland whistleblowers at:

You can help out Mike Garrett at:

Also check out these documentaries: Blackfish

The Cove

Fall From Freedom

Lolita: Slave To Entertainment

And this book: “Death At Sea World” By David Kirby

My Blackfish Review


My Blackfish Review

By: Sarah J. Sweedland

Very few documentaries can really capture my attention. I have a very low attention span and I’m very stubborn when it comes to learning. Documentaries about animals are my vice. I am an animal lover. I’ve had four dogs in my lifetime, and each one was special. I currently have my first cat, who came with my boyfriend, and I love her very much. There has always been one species out there that I’ve never been close to, other than visiting aquariums, that I’ve loved, respected and longed to be a part of. And that is orcas.


There is something magical about orcas. When I was younger it was their size and their power. Just seeing them made me want to be a part of them. I have always felt this emotional and heartfelt connection to these amazing animals. In grade 3, we did a marine unit and through that unit was when I developed my love for whales, dolphins and pinnipeds (sea lions, seals and walruses). We went to Marineland, here in Ontario, and although it wasn’t my first trip there (probably my second or third), seeing them with the new-found respect I had for them, changed me. I wanted to be an orca trainer. It was one way that I knew that I could get close to these exquisite animals. That was my dream for years.


Somewhere it morphed into possibly becoming a Marine Biologist, but school was rather challenging for me. Getting up early isn’t my fortae, and like I said, I have a short attention span, especially when I feel I am being forced to learn something (like math) that I wasn’t interested in. After grade 3, I taught myself what I could about orcas, also known as Killer Whales (although I really dislike that name as it isn’t accurate). I taught myself about their size, their gestational periods, how they hunt, and for what for. I learned there were different types of orca out there. One, called the Resident pods, which ate fish, and another called Transient pods, which prefered small whales, dolphins, penguins, and pinnipeds. As I got older, I learned there were more than just those two types of orca. I’m still learning about them, and I retain that information and for the past year have made it my mission to help pass on what I have taught myself.


As I got older, I recognized the issues that was Marineland. I never really liked that place. There was something sad about it. It never got better. I went there twice in my 20’s, and each time I left feeling sad, and ashamed. I had also been to Sea World, Orlando, twice in the 1990’s, in my teens. That place does something to you. I almost want to say it knows how to cloud your judgement. I never thought that place bad, until recently.


When I first heard of the film Blackfish, I was slightly worried that it might villianize orcas. I was still interested in it, but I was scared. I hadn’t at that point seen a trailer for the film. I was just reading reviews of it from the Sundance Film Festival. The picture was still unclear, but my want and need to see this film was growing. When I finally saw the trailer, I had chills. No movie trailer has ever given me goosebumps.

Now I knew that it wasn’t villianizing orcas, but instead the captive industry. Director Gabrielle Cowperthwaite, takes the blinders off to the captive industry. Those illusions that industry leaders like Sea World create, are those of peace and tranquility. Telling you that their animals are well cared for and loved and what they do, is best for the animals. When in truth it’s what’s best for business. Their business. I don’t doubt that they try to care for their animals as best as they could because if they didn’t then how would they be able to turn a profit? Which in the captive industry, is the most important thing, right? I don’t blame trainers or former trainers either. Why? Because, they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t love these animals. It’s the business itself that they don’t necessarily like.

This documentary is a learning tool. One to help everyone see, that what you see at Sea World, Marineland or the Miami Seaquarium, isn’t natural. There is nothing natural about an eight to ten thousand pound animal, swimming in circles or bobbing at the surface in a fish bowl, when they swim hundreds of miles a day. Diving down deep and spending time with their families.

The captive industry is nothing but an enchantment spell that they put on you when you’re young. This documentary is the cure.

I’ve seen this movie three times now. I love it. I agree with the message and I agree that changes need to be made. In this day and age, we should be protecting this planet and all that has come before us. That includes whales and dolphins. But as human beings, we tend to be selfish. Stealing fish and other sea creatures for food, while the mammals and larger fish, require them for their food source. Now we are stealing the marine mammals, right out of their family’s clutches.

One thing I tell people who question why I want the captive industry to close is this; How would you feel if your son or daughter were kidnapped right before your eyes? Forced to do tricks for food, and live in a cage or a cell that was too small for them? How would that make you feel? If that doesn’t work, turn it around on them; How would you feel if you were forced to live in a tiny cell or cage and if you didn’t perform tricks properly you didn’t get food? It would suck.


(Image from tumblr)

Recently I was lucky enough to attend a benefit for the Marineland Whistleblowers and others who are being sued by Marineland owner, John Holer. Phil Demers is a hero, as far as I’m concerned. Not just for us, for having the courage to speak out against his former employer, but for Smooshi, a walrus with whom he had a deep and amazing connection with. Mike Garrett, who was out at Marineland everyday, spreading the word about what truly goes on at that place. He would hand out leaflets at the exit to anyone who was interested. He never forced anyone to take a leaflet. He never raised a fuss or interfered in Marineland’s business. Yet he gets threatened by Holer, which was caught on video, and nothing was done about it. Except he too, like Demers, is being sued by Marineland. The more lawsuits Marineland fires out, the more I feel they are scared shitless and are trying to force these brave people to back down. So attending this benefit, and donating money, is my way of supporting them. My way of saying, I’ve got your back.

My tickets

My buddy Dave and I went, as my boyfriend was working that night. Dave had never seen the movie, only heard about it repeatedly from me. I knew he would enjoy it, as he doesn’t like aquariums, and he also introduced me to the documentary The Cove. And I was right. We got there and Dave was sweet, he bought me my bracelet, which the proceeds go to support the legal defense. Not knowing that I needed two more, so I bought two more (one for my boyfriend and one for my 15 year old niece, who is anti-cap).


Then I spotted the two guests. Special guests that is; former Sea World trainer, Samantha Berg, whom I’ve spoken with via Twitter on occasion, and world-renowned Marine Biologist, Dr. Naomi Rose. Samantha is featured in the documentary Blackfish along with other former trainers. Dr. Naomi Rose’s story is featured in David Kirby’s book, “Death At Sea World.” Both ladies were gracious enough to sign my book for me. This is a practice I’m used to doing with professional wrestlers, but it was a great honour to have them sign my book and be able to chat with them. When you think about it, they are spreading the word and educating the public on a topic that most people don’t have the guts to listen to, and for me, they are the true celebrities, and heroes out there. I told Samantha that I once had a dream to become an orca trainer, and that it was a dream that I’m glad I never full-filled. I also told both ladies that I had thought about becoming a Marine Biologist and my nerves got to me and I spewed out how boats and I are not friends (lol, no pun intended). Dr. Rose made me nervous. But a good nervous. I just felt so overwhelmed to be in the presence of an amazing woman. Speaking to Samantha was easier, because I have gotten to know more about her through twitter. Although both conversations were brief with both Samantha Berg and Dr. Rose, I will cherish that memory fondly.

 Samantha and Dr Rose

After the movie, there was a question and answer period. The people who were there had so many fantastic questions. Because I forgot paper and pen, I took video with the intention of deciphering it out later, but unfortunately my cell phone didn’t record the questions clearly. Not for the lack of trying, I tried to upload a couple of the videos but I don’t have the patience to sit there and wait for them to finish their business.

For anyone who doesn’t know where they stand when it comes to the very controversial subject, for or against captivity, then I recommend reading David Kirby’s “Death At Sea World” and seeing the documentary “Blackfish”.

For those who can’t find theatres playing the film, you can check it out on CNN October 24th, 2013. I truly hope you will check it out. Maybe it’ll change your mind. (P.S. I love it when my spellcheck doesn’t work, so please forgive me.)

Orcas in Captivity

Orcas In Captivity

By: Sarah J. Sweedland

 Captivity: def; The condition of being imprisoned or confined.

You know that moment when you finally open your eyes to what is going on around you. To what the animals that became so precious to you as a child, are going through now. At one time I thought captivity wasn’t so bad. It gave a chance to breed some of the endangered animals, but the blinders have come off. In fact, they were slapped off my face. Sometimes an activist is born out what we have enjoyed in our youth and grow to fight against in maturity. How else would one know what they’re fighting against and for, if at one time they weren’t somehow part of the problem?

I wrote this huge long article just a few weeks ago, and I was surprised by a few people who actually took the time to read it. Society doesn’t cope well when someone shows them something they know right away they are not going to like. Which is understandable. When my blinders came off in regards to captivity, I made a very difficult vow never again go to an aquarium or zoo again. As an animal lover, especially marine life, and living in southern Ontario, I don’t exactly have a whole lot of access to these animals. I can’t just walk to Lake Ontario and hope to see a pod of Orcas swim by. My only real encounters took place at aquariums. So you’re all probably thinking, what the hell do I know? Well to be honest, first hand, I know very little. But I am taking the time to learn.

I fell in love with orcas, or killer whales as they are more commonly known, when I was young, after a school unit on marine mammals. There was just something majestic about these animals. I was too young to truly understand what made them so special, I just knew that they were indeed, special. As I got older, I read what I could on them, I watched as many documentaries as I could. I wanted to learn about them. I had a dream to be a killer whale trainer. I wanted to be there beside my favourite animals, learning about them and teaching them at the same time. A dream now, I realize, I could have had. Even with just a high school education, I could have had the dream job I had originally wanted at Marineland here in Canada.

I was never really a huge fan of Marineland, I preferred the, and here’s a joke, the spaciousness of Sea World’s facilities. However you cannot hold the animals accountable for where they are living. It’s not their fault.

Recently so much information has come to light about conditions of these places, whether it be water quality, or life span, or training issues or even death. There is so much more that goes on behind the doors at these aquatic parks and, in some cases, traveling sea circus. Either way, when you look at the long run of it all, these animals, do not belong in a concrete prison.


Orcas are the largest breed of dolphins, and are very intelligent animals. Killer whales are born weighing around four tons and full-grown size depends a lot on their sex; Females can reach up and around six to eight tons, and males can reach up to eight to ten tons. They have a complex social structure, which includes different vocals for different pods. It’s their extensive vocal dialect that really sets them apart. Very much like accents. A pod of orcas dialect in the northern pacific coast off of Vancouver Island, British Columbia will be different of that of a pod of orcas in the Arctic ocean up around Iceland and Finland, and all of their pods will be different from those around New Zealand. It’s not just their different dialects of vocals, but also what they eat and how they hunt.

Like people, orcas are very family oriented and also like people, tend to pass down traditions to the next generation. That would include their vocals, as well as hunting skills. Families stick together from birth to death, but have interactions with other pods of similar nature. You won’t find Resident orcas being social with Transient orcas. The two different types of Orcas don’t get along. Resident orcas hunt fish, and live in larger pods full of family, whereas Transient orcas hunt small dolphins, larger whales that are weak or are young calves, they also feed on seals, sea lions, sea turtles, and other marine life. Unlike their distant and more evolved cousins the Resident orcas, Transients travel in smaller pods. Usually about three orcas per pod. You’re probably thinking that it’s the transient orcas who make interactions with residents difficult, but it’s the exact opposite. Transients have been run-off by a pod of resident orcas multiple times according to different marine biologist. The two different type of whales have also had a difficult time co-existing in captivity.

In the wild, Orcas can live anywhere between 50 to 80 years, but in captivity, they are lucky if they can make it to twenty-five. They are incredible fast swimmers, and get up to 48 km/h in the ocean, and will eat about five-hundred pounds of food a day. Females don’t start breeding until they are close to fifteen years old, and once they start breeding they might produce a new calf every 3 to 10 years, and gestation last 17 months.

 “Nature has intended them to live free, exempt from domination.”-Documentary Lolita: Slave To Entertainment


Killer Whales are extremely intelligent animals, probably more intelligent then humans. Their brain is five times the size of ours. This makes you wonder how they manage to get themselves captured by us ignoramus’. However, just like humans, these animals have a downfall. Their Achilles heel if you will; curiosity & immense hunger.

With their curiosity and eagerness for food they would swim up to the fishing boats and not realize that nets would be closing in on them as they took scraps. If one family member got trapped, the rest of the family would be near by. Waiting and hoping for the trapped ones release. With all their acrobatic ability you see, you’re probably wondering why these animals don’t just jump over the nets. It’s because they are aware of the dangers, and they try not to get to close to them. They easily could get out but they are smart enough to know that too much can go wrong from just trying.

In the 1960’s the first few whales caught died accidentally in the nets and one died after being tranquilized with at dart. Marineland collectors (not sure if this Marineland in Niagara Falls, or Marineland in California-not the same owner to my knowledge) shot a male orca and a female got tangled in the net with the line getting caught in the boat propeller.

Two of the most well-known “collectors” (as they are called) were Ted Griffin and Don Goldsburry. Griffin and Goldsburry were the first to perfect a method that would be successful. In the 1970s, Goldsburry became the director of collecting for Sea World and was catching orcas in Puget Sound.

Didn’t matter what method these “collectors” used whether it be, harpoons, hoop nets, gill and purse seine nets. Japanese collectors used harpoons, two died within a year and the other lasted only two. The most common method is the drive method. Boats would drive pods of orcas into a shallow inlet inside a cove and draw a net around, sealing them inside. The entire pod would be trapped and selection would begin. If the drive method failed, the “collectors” would use explosives known as seal bombs to drive the whales in with sound. The method used today, is usually done further from the coast line and a purse seine net is used to encircle a couple of whales. Or distraction in the more choppier water around Iceland where they corral herring, and use the escaped fish to lure whales in close enough to encircle them in the nets. Or 700 to 900 pounds of fresh herring are purchased then dumped in front of an approaching pod and then the net is closed around them.

Once in the nets, orcas check the area for possible escape routes, but usually don’t attempt it unless they are older and know about the nets. They will usually chew threw them.

As of 1970, collectors could no longer capture orcas off the coast of Washington State and in 1975 the same rule was placed in British Columbia. When Sea World could no longer purchase orcas from those waters they turned their attention to the waters around Alaska and Antarctica however both locations failed for different reasons. Eventually Sea World and other marine parks started to retrieve their collection of orcas from Iceland. Importing orcas from Iceland still seemed to be difficult for Sea World because of the difficulty of obtaining permits, but they found a loop-hole. They changed the way they brought in orcas by importing on a breeding loan from other establishments. No payment is exchanged.

I had talked about the dolphin drive in Taiji, Japan in a previous article, where they will drive dolphins into a small shallow cove, trap them inside, allow trainers to select dolphins for captivity and then slaughter the rest. However, over the years a lot of marine parks have not purchased dolphins and whales from Taiji because of the way the fishermen do business and the parks are too worried about their reputation.

Any whale deaths that go on during capture for sale into captivity usually go undocumented even though they are suppose to in order for countries to document any changes in pods and groups. Whales are disposed of in a horrific fashion. In 1970, the Puget Sound round-ups, where famous killer whale, Lolita, was captured, saw five deaths during the capture. One was documented at the time, where a mother was trying to get to her baby, who was separated from her, and got tangled in the nets and drowned. The other four were youths and not reported, but instead at night time, they were taken out to see, had their bellies slit open and filled with rocks and anchors tied to their tails and disposed of. A few months later their bodies washed up on shore, which ended any capturing off of Washington State’s coast line.

What is so bad about captivity? It protects the whales from situations like capture. It protects them from pollution and death at the hands of human beings. Not when you put in certain factors. They are not exempt from death at the hands of human beings while in captivity. Their life span is cut short by a considerable amount. They don’t have the social interaction or mental stability or even the physical health they have out in the ocean. Whales and dolphins have been on this planet long before any humans were ever here. They have more rights on this planet then we do. If they can survive billions of years in the ocean, then they can survive a billion more, if that is what is in the plan for them. Taking them out of the ocean, out of their natural habitat, is not beneficial to these amazing animals. It’s detrimental.


a symbol of man’s irrepressible desire to dominate nature.”-Documentary; Lolita: Slave To Entertainment

On August 8, 1970, has gone down in history as one of the largest captures of orcas. Seven orcas were selected for sale to various marine parks. Two went to Japan, one to France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Texas and Miami.

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Lolita was about six years of age at the time of her capture. Stolen away from her mother for $6000 and put into a concrete box, where she remains to this very day. Four decades later.

When the pod was trapped, their panicked cries were heard all over the area. Families could hear their cries and it broke their hearts. Shortly after this took place, Washington State banned any future captures. It was just too horrific. Today, Lolita is the only surviving orca from that capture. She is still performing in a pool that is way to small for her.

When she arrived at the Seaquarium in Miami, Florida, she was the second orca on the entire east coast. Right there was a member from her pod from two years before, Hugo. He was a huge male bull, that prior to Lolita’s arrival was kept in a pool that was twelve-feet by twelve-feet.

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Together they spent ten years together in the pool where Lolita still resides today. Thirty-three years later. Hugo died of a brain aneurysm. Allegedly from ramming into the tank walls. His body was disposed of at the dump. Since then, Lolita has not seen another orca. Occasionally different dolphins are put with her in her tank. A tank that is larger than Hugo’s first tank, but still way too small according to the governing regulations. The deepest point in her pool is only twenty-two feet deep and the width of the pool is thirty-five feet wide and eighty feet across. Lolita is now twenty feet long and over 7,000-pounds and is the largest female in captivity.

The Seaquarium has been facing lower and lower numbers of patrons over the years and Lolita performs one to two shows a day and receives no other training or practice or stimulations because the trainers say she doesn’t need it. She knows her routine so well. Lolita has brought in about $160 million. For over twenty years the Seaquarium keep stating they plan on building a larger and whole new stadium for Lolita but they’re all talk and no action. Truth is, the place doesn’t do enough business to put millions of millions of dollars into building her a larger place to live, since they can’t even repair the stadium where she is now. Not only is she at risk, but so is anyone who visits. In the documentary “Lolita: Slave To Entertainment” one guy takes us behind and under Lolita’s current home. Pipes are leaking, puddles forming near the utility box marked “high voltage” and the stands, right under where people sit, are being held up with construction jacks. The entire place is a hole. Why? Because owner, Arthur Hertz, is too busy lining his pockets. Whether or not he love Lolita, is a moot point. She’s suffering in that pool. She deserves to be free.

Is it safe for her to be released back into the ocean after 43 years in captivity? Renowned Dolphin expert and activist, Ric O’Barry believes it is possible. Marine biologist have kept tabs on her pod (L-25 sub-pod) in Puget Sound. Her mother, who is close if not over, 90-years old is still alive. A while back a journalist played calls from her family in front of Lolita and she immediately responded. Being six when she was captured, she knows her family. She knows what happened to her and remembers what life is like back in the wild. It’s truly tragic what has happened here. She is a rare orca, who has managed to survive 40-plus years in a concrete pool, way to small for her and has beat the odds. Beaten odds that other orcas who are stuck in larger pools, could not beat. Isn’t time to release Lolita? Retire her and reunite her with her family? Myself and many others, say YES!

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If you’re having problems digesting this, then think about if you were stuck in your bathtub for one week, and once in a while, someone comes in and gives you food. You’ll become highly dehydrated, starving, willing to do anything. If you’re lucky, you might get some warm water added to the chilly waters (not that that part is pertinent to the orcas, it’s just an example of your comfort). If someone said to you, “jump” or “splash”, and offer you food and fresh water to do so, you’ll do it.


The story of Morgan is a hard one to swallow. Actually I really can’t say that because all of these stories are heartbreaking and hard to swallow. Morgan was taken from the wild in Norway in 2010 and was dramatically underweight, yet healthy. The aquarium who captured her had a permit to do a rescue and release. But that never happened. Morgan was eventually put out for the world to see as an exhibit to entertain us humans. She became a vital part of their breeding program being the first orca captured from the wild in twenty-five years.

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Morgan was kept in a too small tank in the Netherlands from the time she was allegedly rescued until November 2011. The tank wasn’t deep enough for her so when she would do any spy hopping, which is where an orca pokes their head out of the water in an upright position to check out what’s going on, Morgan’s tail would be curled on the floor, much like I had mentioned in my brief description of Hugo from the Seaquarium in Miami.

But like Lolita, Morgan has the support of people. Actually she has the support of an amazing woman, someone who I personally look up to. A woman who is not only a respected, knowledgeable expert on orcas but she loves these animals, Dr. Ingrid Visser. Visser is the founder and head scientist of Orca Research Trust, in New Zealand. Orca Research Trust is an organization based on the dedication of protecting orcas and their habitat. She is currently leading the charge to get Morgan into rehabilitation and then release to re-join her family. Visser is leading a legal team in Morgan’s case. So much could be said about Visser’s fight against the judicial system that it would take up so much room, but if you want to read a detailed account of what is going on with Visser’s legal battle then please do so here;

Morgan was eventually moved from her pen at Dolfinarium Harderwijk in The Netherlands and moved to a Sea World owned park in Spain called Loro Parque; . Since Morgan’s arrival at the park, she has had a difficult time with the other orcas. She has accumulated over 650 bites and 100, if not more, attacks happed to her while being observed. Some of the attacks were so bad that she was airborne right out of the water. She is constantly sexually harassed by the adult male orca, and the park is trying to breed her despite the her age. She is still an adolescent. Orcas don’t usually start baring a calf until they are fifteen-years old. The captivity industry is so desperate for new DNA from wild orcas that their rushing Morgan. The industry is so full of inbreeding that it might explain the issues they are having with birth defects and loss of life among their current born calves. Some of the other orcas have been involved in numerous attacks that didn’t just occur on Morgan, but with humans. Son of Tilikum, the orca who killed Sea World veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, a trainer in British Columbia, and quite possibly a civilian who snuck into his pen one night, brutally attacked trainer Claudia Vollhardt, severely injuring her, and son of the original “Baby Shamu”, Keto attacked and killed trainer Alexis Martinez in 2009.

Other than the attacks on Morgan by the other orcas, other physical problems have occurred. She’s so stressed out that she’s jaw popping and biting on the concrete wearing down a third of her front teeth in 19 weeks yet the park she is currently held in are ignoring these issues.

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You can help Dr. Ingrid Visser help Morgan, by signing the petition; and joining the Facebook group; As well as on Twitter; @free_morgan.


I remember seeing on twitter that there was an uproar within the orca supporter community. One that I’m a part of. Maybe not officially, but I do love these animals and really want to help out the best I can, so whenever I hear of anything that is wrong on so many levels, I figure out what I can do to help. Like write. I may not be the best with grammar or spelling, and I’m not an educated expert, but I know a lot and I know what is right and what is wrong. So when I heard that there was this orca who people witnessed was getting bullied by some of the other orcas at Sea World, I had to check it out. Some people reported seeing strange behaviour on the Shamu Cam that Sea World has set up on their website. Or should I say, had set up. Recently I went over to the website to check it out and found that they disabled it and the link was no longer there. The only camera they have set up to stream is the Penguin cam.

The whale that was allegedly attacked and bullied by the other orcas is Nakai. An eleven-year old male orca who had this huge gash on his chin, leaving his jawbone exposed.

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Sea World told media through a statement that Nakai’s injuries were caused when he “came into contact with a portion of the pool environment.”

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment off Animals) accused Sea World of housing killer whales together who were not compatible, which resulted in Nakai’s injuries. This would be in the direct violation of the Animal Welfare act. This wouldn’t be the first time that Sea World has kept incompatible orcas together. It’s not that they don’t know that they are the same species, but it’s really all in the fact that either the facility has put Transients and Residents together which do not get along, as the larger more familial pod of the Residents chase away Transients before becoming physically aggressive. Sea World had that exact problem before with two males ending in a sever penial injury in the Transient orca. Two females have gone after each other, possibly over the calf belonging to one of them, resulting in death. Part of the problem is that they cannot properly communicate with one another. Being locked in a concrete pool where their calls just bounce and reverberate off the walls and metal bars, doesn’t help and of course it comes down to being a part of different pods in the wild, since every pod in the wild have a different dialect. Also such incompatibility can lead to a huge amount of stress that can result in agitation, raking and other serious injury and that includes death. Nakai is constantly being raked by the others.

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Raking is a way for Killer Whales to show dominance. It’s not uncommon in the wild, just not usually an issue. Aggression shows up in all animals, but for orcas its a bit different. Raking is essentially teeth being used to lead the younger members, maybe discipline them for some reason. Raking does happen in the wild but it’s not as common as it is in captivity. In captivity the whales don’t have anywhere to really go to avoid it, and from various accounts that I’ve read about it’s definitely more of an aggression or boredom thing.

 The trainers said that they didn’t even notice the injury to Nakai until they went to feed him, and that’s when they discovered the huge open gash in his chin. The chunk was retrieved from the bottom of the pool later. They claim that it happened during the show and that he had a run-in with the side of the pool. But it was later noticed that the gash had teeth marks around the edges.

Marineland’s Kiska & Junior and Sea World’s Tilikum:

I have already talked quite a bit about both Kiska and Tilikum. Probably the two killer whales that I’m going to make share a section only because I talked about them in my last article; Found here But there are some details that I didn’t get talk about. Some I didn’t know at the time. Mostly about Marineland’s Kiska and Junior. Junior is new to this entire article. One I feel should be included in the talk of Marineland.

Kiska comes from Iceland like many of the current Killer Whales imprisoned at various marine parks around the world. She was captured in 1979 along with three others; King, Caren and another female who was unnamed. Kiska and the one female were sold to Marineland, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The other female was then transferred to Kamogawa but died shortly after. Kiska was joined by Nootka V, Kandu VII and Junior. Kiska had five calves by Kandu VII; one died after 62 days by drowning, Kanuck lived for 4 years but died of traumatic shock and Nova who was born in 1996 and died in 2001 of pneumonia and starvation, in 1998 Hudson was born but died in 2004 of meningitis, and Athena born in 2004. After Kandu VII died on Christmas eve in 2005, Nootka V joined Kiska but tried to steal Athena away. During that time, Kiska was separated from her calf until Nootka died in 2008. She was then reunited with Athena and Marineland brought in Sea World’s Ikaika, also known as Ike to help with breeding. Ike and Athena got along until Athena’s death in 2009. Kiska is now alone, but retired from show as she is now 39 years of age. Probably one of the second oldest whales in captivity. Sea World and Marineland engaged in a nasty custody battle over Ike as he was on loan to Marineland for breeding but Sea World didn’t like the way he was being used and were also not impressed with the facilities. They won the battle and Ike is in San Diego as of November 2011. Kiska now remains alone, floating around the back pool of Friendship Cove.

Her former trainer spoke up about the care, or lack there of, for Kiska. Christine Santos worked for years with Kiska but was fired from her job in October 2012 for not signing a document presented to her that would denounce any claims of animal abuse going on at the park. After refusing to sign it, she was fired. To know more you can visit here;

Marineland’s Junior is a sad story. One that turns my stomach. Now a lot of the stories I have heard come through so many different channels that it’s hard to tell where we all got the information from. A lot of the information I found came from Marineland Animal Defense on Twitter also known as M.A.D.. They have done several posts regarding Junior and his story which was backed up by a video taken by Pawel Dwuilt and Cara Sands. Junior was captured in 1984 at the age of two and brought to Marineland. He was bullied and harassed by the other orcas. They removed Junior from the main tank and put him in a small, concrete holding tank in the dreaded “Barn”. A closed up building with no sunlight, no fresh air, nothing. It’s literally hell for these animals. He was kept there in isolation for the last four years of his life. For four years he never saw another Killer Whale. Occasionally he would share the small concrete tank with a dolphin or two but that was it.

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In April of 1994, Cara Sands and Pawel Dwuilt recorded footage describing the turn around in Junior. Outside of the dreaded “Barn” warehouse were construction vehicles, the smell of gasoline in the air. Inside was just Junior, all along. Floating in his concrete holding cell. When he saw the camera, he opened his mouth but when he realized she had nothing for him he rolled back over. He was virtually unresponsive. Neglected and abused. A true heartbreaking story. A whale that was stuck in a concrete prison for the last 4 years of his life. Junior spent 9 ½ years in captivity, four of that was in isolation. Solitary confinement. Away from life. Abused, neglected, and he died that way. He died alone in July of 1994 at the age of 13. There is rumours, although no concrete evidence, that he was not only lethargic but he had become psychotic as well. He died of brain damage.

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All because John Holer, the owner of Marineland, couldn’t find a use for him, couldn’t find a buyer from another park for Junior. When nothing happened where Holer could financially benefit from Junior, he let him die in that tank instead of doing what was right and releasing him. This story breaks my heart. Maybe more than the others, just because no animal should ever die alone. No animal should ever be treated this way. He was essentially being punished for being bullied by the other whales, and being punished because Holer couldn’t make a buck on him. All Junior ever did was try to live his life free in the ocean only to get caught and taken to a place he didn’t want to be a part of.

Another connection to Marineland is probably the most famous one. The star of the movie Free Willy, Keiko, was kept at Marineland briefly in 1985, and he too was kept in the infamous “Barn” warehouse. In the same small concrete pen where Junior was imprisoned in for the last 4 years of his life. Keiko was then moved to Reino Adventura in Mexico City. And his story can be found here; this is a very captivating life story of an orca who became one of the most famous in the world.

Sea World’s Tilikum, a large male bull, has a very sordid past of his own. He allegedly has killed three people out of four people killed by orcas while in captivity. One was in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sealand of The Pacific where Tilikum and two female Orcas were in their sea pen and one of their trainers slipped in. At Sealand, they didn’t allow trainers to do water work with the orcas, so they weren’t used to having someone in the water with them. The two females were apparently pretty aggressive at times. The trainer slipped and fell in and a few accounts of the story was that the two females started playing with her roughly and Tilikum joined in but she was already dead. Another few accounts were that she slipped in and Tilikum killed her. Nothing substantial has been ever proven that they death was deliberate whether it be Tikikum’s fault or one of the two females. The second death was a civilian man who managed to allude security at Sea World in Orlando and managed to get into the back pool where Tilikum was and was found the next morning dead in the water. Apparently he died of hypothermia and had some abrasions on his body. A few teeth marks. Again, there is nothing to substantiate the claims that Tilikum killed the man.

The problem with these two deaths is…these whales are in captivity. They need constant stimulation. They are so aware and so intelligent that if their brain isn’t being constantly challenged, boredom sets in. They see someone or something in the water in front of them, they are going to play with it. Human being, seal, dolphin, whatever.

The third account, there is no doubt that Tilikum killed the trainer. Dawn Brancheau woke up one morning went to work to work with the animals she loved. She never returned home to her family on February 24, 2010. She was laying next to Tilikum, a 12, 000 pound male orca during a Dine with Shamu show. What happened next was not the happy tail that someone who visited the park would be telling. No what happened was, Tilikum grabbed Dawn by the pony tail or arm, nobody really knows exactly and pulled her into the water where the assault happened. She was dragged and tossed and shakened around by Tilikum. She suffered multiple broken bones and scrapes but by the time they could get to her, she was gone. Nobody knows why he decided to attack her. All she did was touch him on the nose and was spending time with him when he turned on her.

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Tilikum is a wild animal. Orca who knows he isn’t where he suppose to be. When you go through what these animals go through, you’re bound to be pissed off. Before Dawn there was Keltie Byrne at Sealand of The Pacific, and a trainer from the aforementioned Loro Parque in Spain, when another Killer Whale who was on loan from Sea World killed trainer Alexis Martinez, just two months before Dawn Brancheau’s death.


These animals have to endure the stress of capture, the stress of being transfered from ocean to a small tank that is not even close to the size of body of water they are used to swimming in. They have to have their teeth drilled and flushed out daily so they won’t get bacteria infections which can kill them, they have to take pills in frozen fish because many suffer from ulcers or depression. They are forced to perform tricks for an audience of people for what? Food. No performance, no food. These are animals that are used to eating 800 pounds of fish just for a snack. They float listlessly in between shows, they suffer from dehydration that they would normally get from eating fresh fish, but now rely on eating it in a gelatin form. Mother’s are often separated from their babies and most of the time the calves are lucky to survive at all. Natural breeding rarely happens in captivity. Male orcas are masturbated by a human into a plastic sterile bag that is eventually used to inseminate a female orca. Some, like Junior, are being neglected and abused, dying of starvation, dehydration, drowning, brain aneurysms, meningitis, heart disease, pneumonia, respiratory infections, Perforated Stomach due to Ingesting Sand from the Tank Filters, septicemia, fungus’, shock, abscesses, salmonella, West Nile Virus, and many other problems that most in the wild don’t die from. The stress leads to raking and jaw popping (chewing on the metal bars of the gates or cement edges of the pools).

In the United Kingdom, there are no longer whales and dolphins allowed to be kept in captivity. The country has been a captivity free zone for whales and dolphins since the early 1990’s. In the early 90’s the public opinion changed on the subject. Seeing whales and dolphins as intelligent life and living in a unnatural environment. One that they are forced to entertain humans. It became a moral issue about keeping the large animals in too small of space. It wasn’t for education or research like many marine parks claim they are in the business off. Those animals were in there to bring in the money for the greedy humans who trapped and imprisoned these animals. The United Kingdom are setting the right example of making this a possibility for other countries to follow. Have many countries followed the example put forth by this royal country? There are still 59 aquariums in all of Europe. There are more than 183 dolphinariums around the world. But there are none in the United Kingdom. They are the leading country in anti-captivity of whales and dolphins.

Doesn’t this make you think? You don’t need to have live whales and dolphins to perform for us. The one thing that comes with this day and age is technology. So many different ways for these parks to make money. Instead of stealing from the world’s oceans and upsetting our eco-system, why not install iMax theatres all around in the place of these aquariums and dolphinariums, show and educate people by using real footage of these animals in their natural habitat. If you must, show footage of the ones who were enslaved for decades and honour them that way by putting their names and the facts of when they were brought into captivity, how many years they worked to entertain the human race and when they died or hopefully released. It is such a much more balanced idea for these animals. Appreciation for them will be the same. There is so much that technology can do to help educate us now that I feel sometimes it’s not being utilized to it’s fullest capacity. This is one way that we could use technology to our and the whales advantages.

If you’re thinking that release all these whales and dolphins can’t be done, you’re so wrong. Look up Keiko, Springer and Luna. It may not always be successful to release these amazing animals back into their habitat but it gives them the choice whether or not to die with their dignity and die with their families. It gives them that choice to thrive and survive. To see what they were missing. It is possible to rehabilitate them and set them back in the ocean.

After Keiko’s release, Arther Hertz of the Seaquarium in Miami, put in a permit to re-capture him to bring him to reside with Lolita. The Norwegian Ambassado, Knut Volleback denied the permit, stating:

 “Keiko now has a freedom that makes it possible for him to make choices. It would be a step back to put him in an aquarium again.”

Just recently dolphin advocate, Ric O’Barry has been working very closely with Jakarta Animal Aid Network in Indonesia on getting the dolphins released by initiating a rehabilitation program that will help integrate them back into the wild. Many of the dolphins in Indonesia are in these horrible traveling circus’ and have been illegally poached from the ocean. JAAN and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project have constructed the sea pen for the dolphins rehabilitation. A few weeks ago the forestry minister Zulkifili Hasan met with Ric O’Barry and members of JAANto discuss his willingness to shut these traveling circus’ down and release the dolphins to their care for rehabilitation and release. Such a great step in the right direction… Until, the day that two dolphins were suppose to be released into JAAN and O’Barry’s care, the dolphins go missing. Made and Wayan, two dolphins who were kept in a small and very filthy tank at a restaurant in Bali were taken, before they could be transfered to the sea pens. They followed a truck carrying the two stolen dolphins for 20 hours but JAAN and O’Barry don’t know if the dolphins arrived dead or alive as they couldn’t get anywhere near the place. All that was going on by the Minister of Fisheries was apparently lip service as he isn’t responding to what’s going on despite his willingness to work with JAAN and O’Barry. When O’Barry and JAAN withe the US Ambassador met with the Hasan, they were in need of body guards and bulletproof vests to keep them safe. Made and Wayan have not been released yet. We still don’t know if they even survived.

The problem is this; Owners and investors are not going to be up to releasing their dolphins and whales. There is too much money to be made by exploiting these animals. That is why in countries like Indonesia, Ric O’Barry and many other activists put their lives at risk. To be made to wear a bulletproof vest just to leave a building, isn’t something to be taken lightly. When money is involved, nobody’s welfare or safety means anything. The animals welfare and safety means nothing. It’s greed and selfishness on the part of the owners of these sea prisons. All they see are dollar bills. Arther Hertz, who “owns” Lolita, has been offered a lot of money for her so that she can be released. He won’t budge. She’s the only thing he has that is bringing money into that shabby little dolphinarium he owns. Lolita is nothing but his cash cow. And that’s sad. She’s 49 years of age and should be retired. Retired back to her family in Puget Sound. Today she’s performing up to two shows a day. Kiska is retired but what is she doing? She’s not bringing in money by not performing for Marineland, instead she’s swimming around her pool. Alone. Like Lolita.

There are just so many reasons as to why I want these gorgeous, intelligent animals released. I want them to live the rest of their lives in freedom. The way they are suppose be living. Not in prison.

So what would you choose?


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Or Freedom?

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I choose Freedom!

To achieve this there are so many things you can do. You can write to your government, urging the issue of freeing these animals from being in captivity and have them released back to the oceans. But you can start by not buying a ticket!

There is as much educational benefit in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners in solitary confinement.”

-Jacques Cousteau



-Chapter 3 of The Performing Orca-Why the Show Must Stop by Erich Hoyt, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath U.K. 1992


Documentary; Lolita: Slave To Entertainment (2006)


-Author David Kirby talks to Marine Biologist and leading Orca expert, Dr. Ingrid Visser:

-Twitter: @free_morgan


Marineland’s Kiska & Junior and Sea World’s Tilikum:




The Effects of Captivity & the Links to Horror to Cetaceans & Pinnipeds

The Effects of Captivity & the Links to Horror

to Cetaceans & Pinnipeds

By: Sarah J. Sweedland

When you think of whales and dolphins, you think of aquariums. Those neat places where you take your children to see these large, mysterious, aquatic-acrobats. I, myself, am guilty of paying to see these shows and animals. I’ve been to Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario several times throughout my thirty-two years and I’ve also been to Sea World in Orlando, Florida twice in my teenage years. I love seeing these amazing animals. However, I would prefer to see them in their natural habitat, and I’m not talking in those concrete pools in aquariums. No I’m talking about seeing them int he World’s Oceans. Where they belong.

When I was in the third grade, we did a science unit on whales and ever since then I’ve been hooked. I fell in love with Killer Whales. I think it was their shiny black and white look, the sleekness of their bodies and the fact that something so big was so graceful, acrobatic, and beautiful. I needed to know everything there was about the orca, and I did. I became obsessed. I read books, wrote out facts, everything and anything I could get my hands on. Then that moved to learning about other whales, and dolphins. I wanted so bad to work with orcas; to become a killer whale trainer or a marine biologist (a career that would have turned out to be a horrible choice as I found out in 2001 that I get terrible sea sickness).

Something happened as I got older; the pools where these orca’s and dolphins lived, were not as large as they had been when I was seven. Things just didn’t seem proportionate. Still, I convinced myself that it was alright. These aquatic parks could no longer capture animals from the wild and that they are breeding them. For conservation and education. If they were born in captivity, then they were with their families, and would never be able to survive if they were released in the wild. That was pure ignorance on my part.

It’s really a catch 22, because in a small way, I’m right. A whale or dolphin who has been kept in captivity for decades or have been born in captivity would never survive long in the wild. They rely on their pods to survive and for socializing. How would they know how to hunt if they are always being hand fed? Never having to hunt in captivity. So what do we do?

My answer is, I really don’t know.

Unfortunately there’s been a lot of information out there right now. So much so that this started out as a blog and is likely to become an essay.

As sad as it is, my love for these animals had never died, but it took an article out of the Toronto Star to reawaken my passion for these animals. To find a way to help them. I no longer want to turn a blind eye to the horrors of captivity. It’s time to stop being an ostrich, and get my head out of the sand.

Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada:

August 15th, 2012 changed so many things for me. I was sitting at work and I happen to grab the Toronto Star that gets delivered to the security desk, and on that front page was a picture of a Seal named Larry who was suffering behind bars at the aquarium forty-minutes down the road from my home. What was I doing? Nothing. Sitting on my ass at security job that, to be honest, sucks. In a way I sometimes feel like I’m keeping all the residents that reside in the two-hundred and ninety units, in captivity. It’s like an asylum here.

I fold out the paper and I read this article detailing the horrific conditions that the pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) are living in. Eight former Marineland staff members blew the whistle on the park by describing the neglect that have left these animals in horrible shape and condition. We don’t see the problems. We are just the people who pay to see these animals, and have convinced ourselves that they are happy. We don’t see the fur loss, the red irritated eyes, we don’t see what these trainers and staff members have seen despite their best efforts.

Larry’s a harbour seal, who has only been at Marineland for eight years and is now a shell of himself. His eyes are swollan and irritated because of poor water quality. He was pulled from the water and kept in a small waterless pen or a metal box on wheels.

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(photo courtesy of The Toronto Star)

It’s not just Larry who is suffering. Sandy and Baker, two of the parks star Sea Lions are as well. In the off-season, they are enclosed in what is called “dry dock”. A concrete pen with a wooden platform and a bucket of water on the side.

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(Photo courtesy of The Toronto Star)

The water quality was so horrible that both of them would stick their heads in the bucket of fresh water to sooth the burning feeling. Baker, the giant male sea lion, has no lens in his left eye, as he was put back into the water and barked at a trainer and the lens flew out.

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(Photo courtesy of The Toronto Star)

Sandy died in July. Six out of seven seals are blind, have impaired vision or have suffered from serious eye infections. The walruses are being neglected due to lack of staffing and cut hours. They are highly social animals that crave attention in captivity and are confined in dry dock pens that are waterless. For months the only attention they got were from the trainers allowed to come in to do feedings. The only light in the dark Barn was from a small skylight above. The Walruses suffered a great deal, weight loss, fur loss, eye problems, stress, and even depression. Zeus, a large powerhouse of a walrus, was disintegrating before the trainers eyes. He was suffering regurgitation issues and was in a pen that was barely big enough for him to turn around in, and lack of trainers often meant that they would find him laying in his own feces.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Toronto Star)

The one walrus, Smooshi, had wildly inflamed flipper which, according to the veterinarian was a chemical burn, to her back flippers from the bad water conditions.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Toronto Star)

They have kept a lone killer whale, Kiska, which is illegal to do in the United States because of the social level of these animals. They need their own to communicate and socialize with. Marineland once had five orca’s but four have since died. Sea World even sued the Canadian aquarium for the return of one of their male orca’s on loan to help sire calves, when they saw the poor conditions. Kiska has been alone since November 2011.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Toronto Star)

Five female dolphins were left in bad water in a concrete pool in an area called, “The barn”. Former employees said that they would lay at the bottom of murky green water or thrashed wildly. Everything was in reaction to the changing chemicals. Skin would fall off in chunks and they wouldn’t eat. Their water wasn’t changed until show season started in May. This lasted seven months.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Toronto Star)

They also had issues in Arctic Cove, where they housed their collection of Beluga whales. Marineland is a leader in Beluga breeding and exports a lot of their “stock” to other aquariums. One night, baby Skoot was attacked by two male beluga’s that repeatedly pushed her up against the rocks and sides of the pool. Biting and nipping at the young whale who cried out to her mother for help. Her mother intervened but could only stave off the attack for so long. A park employee who a guide and not trained for dealing specifically with the whales and dolphins, radioed for help and was forced to watch this horrible attack. It took two hours for the park to get two of their trainers back in, and by then it was too late. They managed to pull the baby beluga out of the water but it was too late, Skoot convulsed and died in their arms.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Toronto Star)

Marineland owner said that Skoot was attacked because she was sick. Contracting bacterial meningitis. He was quoted as saying, “if animals see another animal is going to die, they kill it.” From what I’ve learned of whales, this isn’t the case. Whales have been known to take care of their own, or die alongside them when they are beached. But what do I know? I wasn’t some moron who bought an aquarium after coming from a background of European circus’ (and we all know what horror stories have come from over there, WSPCA commercials say it all). John Holer, insisted that there was no problems with the water, saying that he takes care of his animals better than he takes care of himself. That doesn’t offer much hope. He also claimed that the eye problems suffered in the dolphins and the pinnipeds were because of old age. That wasn’t the case. There was serious problem with the ozone levels of the water, when even the trainers had to wear masks and one trainer couldn’t get a full body rash to go away.

One of the problems is, that here in Canada we don’t have any laws or policies that protect marine mammals. The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a privately owned company that issues licences to places like Marineland. They are not a government-run agency. When the story broke, they did go into Marineland and did a tour of the facility that took less than three hours. What they found was that the place was not in any violation of their orders. The OSPCA has stepped in but they were limited in what they could do at first. The problem was with whether or not they could include any animals under veterinary care in their investigation. A small but critical clause that says the OSPCA has no jurisdiction in any cases where veterinarian care is being provided or a person acting under the supervision of a vet’s orders. What this meant was, the animals that needed the OSPCA’s help the most were under the care of a veterinarian, which meant they were off-limits. But is it? Madeline Meilleur from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services says “We would never have introduced a bill that would have a loophole. And, according to our legal department, there’s no loophole.” However she admits that she doesn’t have the power to tell the OSPCA what to do as it’s a private charity that falls under her ministry. She is reviewing the act and says she would like to see government licensing of zoos and aquariums in Ontario.

Marineland hasn’t just stood there and let these allegations ruin them. They fought back through lawyers. The theme park served former trainer with a $1.25 million lawsuit for telling the Toronto Star about Kiska, their lone killer whale, was bleeding from her tail. The trainer had been fired the day before. She said that the killer whale had been bleeding on and off for months.

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(Photo Courtesy of The Toronto Star)

Marineland claims the accusation was false and inaccurate. Marineland claims that the trainer was upset because the theme park refused to give permission to her boyfriend to film a reality show around him and one of the walruses. Her boyfriend led the parade of whistleblowers, which started with eight and now have fifteen former trainers and staff coming forward. All backing each other’s claims. The trainer has since decided to fight back and has filed a counter-lawsuit against Marineland. One I’m sure will make this battle go on for a long time.

Sure all of this is surely going to affect the city’s tourism, but should that really be the main concern? No, it shouldn’t be. The main concern is the health, safety and well-being of this animals. Animals that aren’t easy to take care of. They aren’t in anything that is even remotely close to their natural habitat. Not that it’s easier for timber wolves in the Toronto Zoo, because it’s equally not fair, but it is easier to recreate a forest then it is an ocean.

Dolphin advocate, Richard O’Barry, said in an interview that it was not a surprise about the accounts of the former employees. He first protested Marineland in 1991. What surprises him the most is that Canada is far behind some of the third world countries. “For a country as advance as Canada not to have offered any protection whatsoever (to marine mammals) is shocking.” Ric O’Barry said. He is right. He should know.

This is still an ongoing concern here in Canada. While Madaline Meilluer is working hard to amend these problems. Her staff has been working hard to give the OSPCA more power and working hard on changes although licensing zoos and aquariums provincialy will require a new law.

Sea World, Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California:

Marineland isn’t the only marine park that’s under scrutiny. The aquarium chain that brings in billions and billions of dollars a year is facing a lot of allegations that they aren’t what they say they are. That their animals face unsafe living conditions as well. Ones that might shock you, and might not. Sea World is just as much at fault as Marineland. They may not have as many issues with water conditions as Marineland but they have a much more serious one.


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(photo courtesy of

I’m the last one to ever say anything bad about a killer whale, but let’s get somethings straight here. This is a big mo-fo of a whale. Tilikum has gotten around. He was captured at the age of two off the coast Iceland and made his first place of captivity in British Columbia, at Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay. The first of three people to die who are linked to Tilikum was a young trainer who slipped and fell into the water. It is believed she drowned when Tilikum and two females started to play with her. Although he wasn’t directly involved in the young trainers death, he was a part of it and is still being primarily blamed for it. He was then moved in 1992 to Sea World in Orlando Florida. Unlike Sealand in British Columbia, Sea World’s trainers worked in the water directly with the killer whales. With the exception of Tilikum. He was two big and because he was linked to the fatality in British Columbia there were obvious trust issues. The second death also cannot be linked directly to Tilikum. A 27-year old man remained in the park after it closed, hiding from security and eventually ended up in the Orca pen with Tilikum. Naked. He was found the next day, with bruising and wounds. An autopsy revealed that those were all post-mortem and that he died of hypothermia and drowning. It wasn’t until 2010 when Tilikum could be directly linked to the death of another trainer. A 40-year old trainers death was witnessed by some of the park’s patrons. She was laying next to 12,000 pound orca on one other platforms that is about a foot into the water. She was then pulled into the water by her pony tail although there are other statements that say it was her arm. She was thrashed back and forth and other employees tried distraction methods to get Tilikum to release her. Eventually they managed to get him into a smaller, pool where they managed to calm him down. He released the trainers body. An Autopsy concluded that her death was caused by drowning and blunt force trauma. Her spinal cord was severed as well as other injuries. The park would be fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for three safety violations. A little over a year later, Tilikum was back performing. Hands off and no water work with Tilikum is the current policy. precautions are apparently in place as a prevention measure in case of any future issues.

What I found interesting was some comments I found on this one website that announced that Tilikum would be back in the Sea World show. People were talking about how great it was to visit Sea World and that they would go often and all the time just to get splashed and to see the whales do tricks. Not one said that it was a bad thing. Not one commented on how the effects of captivity effects these animals. But it does.

Whales aren’t just put into these pools and fed fish. Those fish are frozen, half thawed fish. Lacking the nutrients of fresh water fish. The gills are shoved with antibiotics, antacids and vitamins and injected with tap water to add nutrients that aren’t found in frozen or thawed fish. They are fed gelatin to help combat dehydration. Tilikum alone consumes over 83-pounds of gelatin a day to combat dehydration. Their teeth are often breaking ont he horizontal bars of the gates that the whales gnaw on in a display of aggression, which can break their teeth exposing tooth pulp. If untreated, that decaying pulp can form cavities that get plugged with food which cause infection and inflammation that can cause harm to their immune and cardiovascular systems. The only solution is the trilling of the teeth. Several times a day each orca has to have their teeth flushed to keep bacteria from getting into their systems. They train the whales by using food and massages which is called positive reinforcement. They are taught to put their chin on the deck then are shown the high-speed tool, that is like a Dremel tool that we have in our homes. They rub their fins or feed them. Then they touch the off drill to their tooth and reinforce the animal before turning the drill on the lowest speed. this continues until they get the drill to the highest speed. The procedure is bloody and painful for the animals. Sometimes teeth are hollowed out or removed as a preventative measure.

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(Photo Courtesy of Animal Connection)

The death rate is also higher in captive animals then if they were in their natural habitats. A study done by two government scientists analyzed yearly data that showed a 6.2 mortality rate in captive non-calf killer whales, where in the wild the mortality rate of non-captive, non-calf killer whales was 2.4. That’s a huge difference. There’s a greater chance for injury in captivity then there is in the wild. Incidents occur when you don’t know what you’re doing. Or what types of whales you have. Especially with orca’s. There are two types of orcas; Resident and Transients. The only significant difference is in what they eat. Residents eat fish, travel in larger family unit than their distant cousins, the Transients. Transients travel further distances and stay in a smaller unit. They eat small mammals, like seals, sea lions, dolphins, otters, birds, and the like. Some even go after large whales like humpbacks and gray whales. The two groups don’t mix. Residents will win out every time over the transients. Sure the transients are ballsy enough to go after the larger prey, but that doesn’t mean that they can take on the residents. A witnessed account saw a pod of residents just booking it through the water and 100-yards away were three transients trying to escape. The outcome wasn’t in the transients favour. Where am I going with this? Well, it has something to do with what I said earlier. With not knowing your types of whales. Back in 1978, Kotar was taken from the waters of Iceland at just one year of age and spent seven years at Sea World in San Diego before being relocated to Sea World in Orlando where he spent another seven years. Orlando brought in another very large male with an attitude named Kanduke and the two did not get a long. Kotar was from a resident pod and Kanduke was from a transient pod. An altercation occurred that had Kotar biting Kanduke’s penis, severely wounding it and then Kotar being transferred to Sea World in San Antonio. It would be the last place Kotar would ever see. He had taken to mouthing and tugging on the horizontal bars of the gate of his pool and one day that gate crashed down on his head, crushing his skull. He bled out quickly to his death. This problem could have been avoided in two different ways; 1) know your whales and their types and don’t put them together, and 2) don’t put these animals in captivity. At all.

Unfortunately the death rate doesn’t stop there. Rare deaths happen. Ones that you wouldn’t see happen out in the wild. Kanduke died because of SLE (St. Louis Encephalitis) which was transmitted by mosquitoes. One of the trainers witnessed a black mass of mosquitoes hovering over Kanduke’s back. After death it was revealed that he died of SLE. This was the first ever case that SLE was found in a marine mammal. In San Antonio, 14-year old male, Taku, died because of the West Nile virus, and six other orcas all tested positive for the same virus.

A pregnant orca, Gudrun, who was lucky enough not to suffer from a collapsed dorsal fin, was the perfect money-maker for Sea World. They had her pose with tourist, holding poses for minutes for photos. The stress was too much on the unborn calf so when Gudrun went into labour, the staff couldn’t find a heartbeat and presumed the calf was dead. Manually the staff had to remove the stillborn calf from Gudrun, where she hemorrhaged and was stuck unshaded in one of the slide out areas. The staff had to cover her back with zinc oxide. The calf was not dead, but deformed. Not long after giving birth, they had to separate Gudrun from her calf as she was attacking her daughter. After a while, Gudrun nudged her calf gently through the bars and then died a few hours later.

In San Diego, female orca, Kandu bled to death after a fight with another female orca who she rammed caused Kandu to break her jaw and severe a major artery. (

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(Photo Courtesy of

She bled out in 45 minutes in front of Sea World’s patrons.

Is this really worth it? All this carnage and pain? Aggression in the wild towards family members is unheard of. But in captivity they aren’t all related. Like I said earlier, some come from resident pods, and others come transient pods. They don’t get along. Plus females are very protective of their calves, so they don’t take kindly to others getting involved. Of course there is going to be aggression in captivity. After all that you’ve read, do you blame these animals? Do you blame them for being pissed off? No, I don’t.

But people do. People blame them for deaths of the trainers or the stupidity of a drunk guy who thought it be cool to just get in the water with a giant bull like Tilikum where his space isn’t that big. If I had become a trainer, I would be smart enough to have researched the risks I’d be taking. Just the same way as marine biologist like New Zealand’s Ingrid Visser, know the risks of getting in the water with orca’s. Yes Visser did that because she loves them so much. Any animal you take from their natural habitat and put into a cage, is eventually going to become aggressive. Especially in their older years. Human seniors sometimes become aggressive in their old age as well. It’s just fact. Old age just happens faster to these animals in captivity then it does in the wild.

Have we forgotten the importance of sound for these animals? They use sonar to locate food, each other and objects. Echolocation is key for these animals yet in a concrete pool it’s just bouncing around. Dolphins and whales are sensitive to sound, it’s how they get around and communicate. It’s essential for these animals to socialize, eat and find their way. Each click they emit goes out and returns a signal through their lower jaw which travels to their ear. It’s a feel and a sound. Sounds of banging on the glass from children and people at aquariums is stressing for these animals which is why there is usually a sign telling people not to bang or knock on the glass. Loud noises that aren’t natural for these animals can cause stress. Which can cause ulcers. All lead to health issues.

Pinnipeds at Sea World also have it hard. Recently a death of a sea lion in San Antonio was caused by an uncovered drain where the Sea Lion got caught and drowned in a holding pool. Sea World San Antonio fixed the drain issue and checked all other drains for any problems. Staff was sadden by the death of the young female. I don’t doubt that.

Captive Marine Mammals have more rights in the United States then they do here in Canada. For one, they have the government to look out after them as they fall under the Animal Welfare Act under their United States Department of Agriculture. Here in Canada they don’t fall under anything. The USDA concluded their official investigation on the park. But before in 2009 and 2010, they had found that the employees had failed to properly latch the covers on the drain. Is this another case of ignorance and neglect?

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(Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post/Getty images)

I don’t think these trainers go in with the intention of harming these animals. The trainers enable these shows to go on, but have you ever heard of a trainer who was there because it was just a job? I honestly believe they love the animals they work with. I also believe it’s difficult for trainers to leave their animals in order to speak out against captivity. It wasn’t easy for Marineland’s Phil Demers or Christine Santos to leave the animals they spent years working with. An attachment grows towards that animal. Just like we get attached to our cats and dogs. But there is so much more about captivity that I haven’t even touched on.

Obtaining these animals for these sea circus’ is still an act that goes on today. In these acts is a darker side that nobody really knows about.

Taiji, Japan:

Everybody loves dolphins. They have this natural, happy way about them. They always seem like they’re smiling and happy. Little do we know that there is a sadder side to these animals. One that is severely misunderstood.

Dolphins are among, if not (in my opinion), the most intelligent species on this planet. They have feelings. They know when something great is going to happen and they know when something horrible is going to happen. They care for their families as we care for ours. They’re protective of their young and they take care of their elders.

Taiji is this small little village of 3, 500 residents. When you arrive to the town you are greeted by so many smiling whales and dolphins painted on sides of buildings. There’s even a Dolphin Museum. It’s location is in a protected nook of a bay where the waters are shallow and there are many islets. Usually this cove is a public beach. Children play and swim. Sometimes dolphins will swim right through the people, playing and being curious. There are stairs that lead down to the beach and paths to walk along. The cove’s beautiful waters are a gorgeous blue, the sun glistens and sparkles. That is until September comes.

Between the months of September to March, that beautiful place becomes a place of horror. A place of death and imprisonment.

There is so much money in the international trade on live dolphins that it’s not even funny. In the United States to import dolphins and whales that are caught in the wild. But it’s such big business that how many of these aquariums are aware of the history of the dolphins and whales they already have? All dolphins have a lineage, and there is likely an ancestor to many of the captive born dolphins are likely from Taiji. The Taiji FU makes around $32, 000 per live dolphin it captures. Already trained dolphins sell for way more money. The trainers from a nearby swim-with-dolphin programs and from the Taiji Whale Museum which has a live dolphin show, come to the bay to select individuals for the industry. Families are torn apart.

The drive by the banger boats is where it all begins the link between being imprisoned and being slaughtered. There isn’t much of a difference here. Fishing boats have long metal poles attached to them, once a pod is located, five or more boats will surround the pod and start banging on the tops of these long metal poles creating a sound curtain underwater that the dolphins and whales try to get away from. In the process these boats and their poles drive them towards the cove. Once in the cove, they are netted off.

When the Dolphin hunt begins, that public path to the bay is barricaded and has become a criminal offense to trespass.

The dolphins and whales are now secluded in a shallow area. They are totally aware that this isn’t a good situation. They become stressed and agitated, as they find themselves surrounded by nets. Some try to escape, but they don’t make it. Their cries are different from the ones you hear in audio clips, they are distressed cries. They know their fate.

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 Some are selected for imprisonment, being tossed by the tails on to smaller boats, called skiffs and then tossed into the pens for their captives.

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(Photo Courtesy of

Others await their fate. Once the trainers leave and they have their selections, things change. The fishermen don’t care which dolphin gets slaughtered. Elders, parents, teenagers, and even babies are all ripe for the slaughter.

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(Photo Courtesy of Tumblr; Original poster unknown)

Slaughter is far from humane. Killing dolphins in front of their families, leaving them to swim in the blood-red water in complete anguish. In the 2009 Academy Award Winning documentary, disturbing footage was captured showing the disgusting, inhumane slaughter of dolphins. The footage was not easy to obtain and despite his best efforts director, Louis Psihoyos, tried his hardest to keep it legal. It just wasn’t possible. The footage is really too disturbing and distressing for me to want to talk about, but then again, I didn’t want see it either but I watched it.

Fishermen would pull the skiffs up close to a pod that was often huddled together and stab at them with knives and harpoons. Dolphins that were injured and ones that weren’t thrashed and fought their hardest to survive. Bleeding out the more they fought. Slower attempts at the killing as the fishermen would stab one and then leave it to stab another. It was horrifying.

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(Photo Courtesy of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians:

The backlash the town received was immense, but they refuse to stop. They say it’s tradition and their right to kill these beautiful harmless creatures. Some huddle close together in fear, spending the last few minutes of their lives with one of their loved ones. Dolphin activist, Ric O’Barry stated a fact at the premier of the documentary;

Dolphins have a brain larger than the human brain. They’re self-aware, like people and like the great apes. They’re not fish, chicken, cows, pigs or other domesticated animals.” -Ric O’Barry

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(Picture Courtesy of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians:

Times have changed. This kind of mass killing isn’t alright. Now they say they have found a more humane way to kill these animals. The fishermen stab the dolphin behind the blowhole. Afterwards the dolphins are still alive. Death isn’t instantaneous. Thrash in agony in their own blood. Some even throw themselves on the rocks either in an effort to escape or to quicken the process of their death.

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What is being done with the dolphins and whales once they’re slaughtered? They are sent to a butcherhouse where they are cut up and packaged and sold to the public.

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(Picture Courtesy of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians:

Selling dolphin meat isn’t as lucrative as exporting live dolphins for entertainment. It’s not a secret that Dolphin meat isn’t good for you. But in Japan, the distributors, don’t care. They will package it but compared to the $32, 000 they make on one live dolphin, they probably only make $600 in total from selling the meat. There’s a much higher demand for other whale meat, then there are for dolphin meat. A lot of controversy is going on as it’s been found out that some of the meat that is being sold over in Japanese markets are labeled as whale meat but was tested by scientist and turned out to be dolphin meat.

When distribution of the meat slowed, distributors tried to give it away to the schools for the children’s mandatory lunches. Lunches for schoolchildren were deemed to have mandatory lunches where they had to eat what was given to them.

News of toxic levels of mercury found in dolphin meat has only deterred some of the Japanese residents to turn away from eating it. Levels that are considered healthy are registered at 0.4ppm’s. In dolphins they are finding levels as high as 100ppm of mercury and 2.6ppm of PCB’s. Mercury poisoning can cause deformities in the fetus of pregnant women, as well as make your hair fall out, headaches, possible heart attacks, effects their nervous systems, problems walking and speaking. In extreme cases it could cause insanity, paralysis, comas and death. But mercury poison isn’t just restricted to Japan, it is a concern in all marine products worldwide.

Dolphin meat isn’t only just sold to humans, but is processed in dog food in Japan. Do you think the toxic levels of mercury is good for your pet? Probably not.

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(Photo courtesy of

It doesn’t matter if dolphin meat are toxic or not. What is being done over in Taiji, Japan is uncalled for. When I watched the documentary “The Cove” I was prepared for the tears, and I thought I was prepared for images, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared at all. Do I regret watching this documentary? Absolutely not. I will make it my job to get as many people in my life to watch it, and see for themselves, and maybe they’ll pass it on to others.

Not all Japanese people are linked to Taiji. It’s unfair to blame the entire country for what residents in the larger city are unaware of. The showing to “The Cove” in Japan was short-lived. May have only ran for three nights before it was yanked from viewing. But since that documentary came out, Japanese animal rights activists started to speak up against the dolphin slaughter. In November of 2012, a demonstration in Tokyo attracted 70 protesters. In a country like Japan, where traditions are upheld to the utmost respect and regard, nobody ever speaks out against them or the issues. The government and extremists discourage people from speaking out with threats, while at the same time producing documents that these hunts are traditional and scientific. Where have you ever heard of scientist killing a whale or dolphin for research? You don’t. Research comes from the marine life that are found already deceased. The Japanese government have even falsified documents that claimed that dolphins and whales are eating all their fish, which is a major part of the Japanese diet.

The importance of these protesters coming out is a HUGE step in the right direction. When people in the country where this horrifying slaughter is taking place sees a problem and starts speaking up against it, is a huge deal. It’s that one thing that can help stop this. The more protests, the more chances these dolphins and whales have.

I often wonder if they could use sound to drive them into the cove, what’s keeping us from using sound to drive them further away from the cove and certain death? The only reason being is that, that noise causes them too much stress and we aren’t cruel people. But once again, you sit on a catch 22. Are we cruel to use sound against them to drive them towards safety or are we cruel because we watch killers use sound against them to drive them into death?

International Whaling Commission:

I refuse to get into too much detail about this committee because it is in my opinion that they are fairly corrupt. Some of the points that I learned about them however are; 1) They do not include small cetaceans on their list of off limit cetaceans. Small Cetaceans include dolphins, porpoises and other small toothed whales. This is not a fair assessment of these animals, as they are deserving of the same rights as the larger baleen whales. 2) Japan is currently leading the charge in over-throwing the anti-whaling laws globally. This would allow them to hunt more and make a profit from the whales all over the world. Also, they have managed to “buy” votes from smaller, third world nations. Some don’t even know what types of whales or dolphins they have in the oceans around their countries. Some even admitted on the documentary “The Cove” that they’ve never even seen a whale in their lives. How are these people even allowed to be on a committee when they are unfamiliar with the subjects? How are we, as activist, able to trust that this Commission is trustworthy in the protection and conservation of these amazing animals? We can’t. If the votes can be bought, whose to say one of the larger countries won’t decide to support Japan’s motion to overturn the anti-whaling laws?

Afterall, everybody’s got a price.


When all is said and done, there is still a gruesome tragedy taking place on the other side of the World. But there are crusaders who are working hard to stop what is happening. Sea Shepherd is there, not just in Japan, but all over the Globe trying to stop any and all marine life from being extinct and/or taken captive. They are working hard to stop the importing of shark fins that are being cut off of live sharks then the shark, finless is being tossed right back in the water to die. They have Cove Guardians stationed in Taiji every year, keeping an eye on what is transpiring over there.

Dolphin Activists, Richard O’Barry learned the hard way of what captivity can do to dolphins and other whales. He was the first person to ever capture dolphins for the television show, “Flipper.” He watched as when the show ended those five dolphins that played the role were put into an aquarium and lived in horrible conditions. Regret sunk in fast and he wished he hadn’t done what he did. The day that Flipper, a dolphin named Kathy, died in his arms at the Seaquarium, was the day he decided this had to end. He was out the next day, getting arrested for releasing dolphins. His hard work and passion to bring attention to the imprisonment of dolphins has opened a lot of eyes. It has opened the eyes to what is going over in Japan.

It’s people like O’Barry, and the founder of Sea Shepherd, Captain Paul Watson (who have since resigned due to multiple warrants out on him), the cove guardians, Louis Psihoyos who brought us the documentary “The Cove” and the people of Marineland Animal Defense here in Ontario, that are inspiring, and heroic. It’s people behind the scenes, getting that information out there that those people have given us. We can stop this with education and action.

Every time you are going to a dolphin or whale show, or pay to swim with the dolphins, is another amount of money that is enabling the killers over in Taiji to keep capturing and torturing these animals. Every time you walk through those gates of Marineland or Sea World, you are blind to what is going on when the park closes and in the off seasons. The conditions these animals are living in.

Right now the Ontario Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has given Marineland in Niagara Falls some mandatory instructions that they must be complete by the end of January 2013. Two have already been completed. Does this make things better? No, it’s a band-aid. But it brings us back around to the debate of should these animals be released back into the wild where they will be unable to properly fend for themselves? Or are improved “living” conditions the best we can hope for while they are imprisoned?

When it comes time and I have children of my own, I refuse to allow them to partake in any school trips that will take them to these places. If they have questions about these animals, then I feel I can answer them to the best of my ability. I can provide pictures of these animals in the ocean taken with care from photographs and even video. I would rather they know the truth. As guilty as I feel for the years that I pushed to visit Sea World, which I got to do twice in my teen years, and the several times I visited MarineLand. I would feel like a hypocrite if I was to allow my children to aid in these practices. These are my own opinions, of course. I cannot tell you what to do, any more than you can tell me that my views and opinions are wrong. I just hope that this blog or essay, has at least made you think twice.

If I have managed to stop at least one person, or one family from going to these sea circus’, then I’ve helped these animals in some way. It may not be much, but it’s a start. Trust me when I say, if I could just take off and join Sea Shepherd, then I would already be gone. If I could take off and be in Taiji, Japan to show support to the Guardians of the Cove, then I would be there. If I could go back in time to when I was younger, I would have chosen a different path in my life. Although I may be living with regrets of a path not taken, despite the size of the dream…I’m on my way back in a different way.

My heart breaks, and my stomach turns at the horrific undertakings in Taiji, Japan. Knowing what I know about these animals, makes it that much harder to endure. Except I’m not the one enduring this horror. The dolphins are. And it needs to stop. It stops with us.


Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada:

Sea World, Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California:

Tilikum photo from:



Taiji, Japan:

The Documentary “The Cove” by Director Louis Psihoyos, featuring Dolphin activist Richard O’Barry

Picture link:


The Documentary “The Cove” by Director Louis Psihoyos, featuring Dolphin activist Richard O’Barry


The Documentary “The Cove” by Director Louis Psihoyos, featuring Dolphin activist Richard O’Barry