Marineland

“A dolphin’s smile is their greatest deception. It creates the illusion that they are always happy.”
-Richard O’Barry

I have been loosely following the Marineland Animal Defense (M.A.D.) campaign since I met Dylan Powell of Vegan Police and many other righteous endeavors back at a conference in March. People have been protesting Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario for over 20 years though but the sh*t really hit the fan in mid-August when former head trainer Phil Demers came forward to tell the Toronto Star what he saw behind the scenes. Everything from dolphins skin falling off in chunks, to seals going blind or having major eye problems due to dirty water, and things that made him so disillusioned the only way he felt he could get justice for the animals was to quit working there and going public. I’m so glad he did. After reading the three part expose online from the Toronto Star, I felt compelled to do something besides sit behind my computer crying.
Since Phil has come forward numerous other former employees have also come forward to tell the horrors they’ve witnessed in the treatment of animals at Marineland. There was the heartbreaking tale of the land animals (namely the deer and bears) from former supervisor, Jim Hammond. Former trainer Glen Owen told the Toronto Star of his experiences witnessing the abuses and neglect behind the scenes and his inability to save them as well. All of their stories, and so many more, only scratch the surface of the hellish conditions that these animals have to live in, day in and day out, so humans can be entertained and an unscrupulous owner, John Holer, can line his pockets with their cash.

With passport in hand, packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a husband willing to drive and accompany me for the 3+ hour drive to Canada, we went to the next scheduled Marineland demonstration on August 18th, 2012. From the reports I’ve read, normally a few dozen protesters usually show up, but this Saturday was different. Close to 500 or more people, many protesting against Marineland for the first time, came to fight the powers that be. It was epic. Parents with children, signs galore, people on bullhorns, all types of people from all over. The energy was amazing. There were a couple of protesters that went around with a jug of cold water, cups, and some freeze pops on hand to give to the rest of us as we stood out in the hot sun for hours. I don’t know who they were, but I’m am so grateful and touched by their kindness and generosity. Most cars that rode by honked, gave a thumbs up, and showed signs of support for the protest in one way or another as well. It was a humbling and extremely positive experience, overall.

There were numerous organizations showing their support that day, such as Ocean Voice London, Sea Shepherd, Save Japan Dolphins, and of course Marineland Animal Defense (M.A.D.), which is a campaign of the Niagara Animal Defense League. It felt like I made 500 new friends with a common cause and purpose. I was so fired up from that protest that we went to the next protest, the following week as well.

My friend John Sakars helping to hold up a beautiful mural

Edited to add: Another tragic storyline in the whole Marineland debacle is that of the 47 families who lost their homes (and for one, her life) as a result of John Holer’s eviction of them from their trailer homes. I met some of the former residents such as Brian Topolinsky and his lovely wife, Connie O’Connor-Topolinsky on my first demonstration against Marineland and was so touched and horrified by their stories that I asked if I could hold one of their protest signs on my second visit to the park. They told of being evicted from their homes so Holer could use the land for “maintenance” for the park: without permits and to this day, well over a year from the final eviction notice, with no work being done on the property. Their homes still stand with weeds and grass growing high around them. Some of the residents of Green Oaks were elderly, disabled, or retired and used the last of their savings to purchase or make upgrades to their homes. On the date of her eviction, one of the residents, Paula Millard, showed her last sign of resistance against Holer by ending her life. Simply heartbreaking. I will not forget their stories.

This reminds me of the connection between those who harm animals (as John Holer has been accused of shooting animals in Marineland that were sick or even a neighbor’s dog who got out and ended up near his property) and their capacity to hurt humans as well. I hope that in the end, the families from Green Oaks finally get their justice. Please check out the details of their plight at GoHomeless.ca.

Phil Demers talks with Connie and Brian, former residents of Green Oaks, and Teresa, cousin and best friend of the deceased Paula Millard

Since then, I decided to become an ADL sustainer to help with the M.A.D. campaign and future endeavors of the group. They are truly a grassroots organization that mobilize to create effective change. They recently released a kick-ass Marineland PSA as well and I’d recommend anyone that can do so, to also become a sustainer.
The next (and last) demonstration of the season is coming up this Sunday, October 7th, closing day for the abusement park. This will be one demo you do not want to miss, if you happen to be in the Niagara region (or a few hours from it)! Ric O’Barry of Save Japan Dolphins, who once trained the dolphins who played Flipper, will be in attendance and speaking at the demo. His story of exposing the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan was told in the powerful documentary, The Cove. O’Barry has made it his life’s mission to stop the live marine mammal trade because of the inherent cruelty and unnaturalness of putting sentient beings, like dolphins, in tanks for our amusement. He is a force to be reckoned with and someone whom I admire greatly.

I don’t know what the future will bring for those amazing creatures who are imprisoned in Marineland or other marine parks throughout the world, but I hope that the light M.A.D., myself, and other groups and activists are trying to shine on this industry makes people think twice about buying a ticket to these places and eventually releases these animals to where they belong: in the wild!

“No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”
– Jacques Yves Cousteau