Niagara police open investigation into Marineland's use of animals

Niagara police are investigating the use of marine animals at Marineland after receiving a complaint from a non-profit animal rights organization.

Const. Jesse Vujasic of the Niagara Regional Police confirmed that the police received a complaint in late October 2021. An investigation has begun and is being conducted by detectives at their 2 District Niagara Falls office, she said.

"As the investigation remains ongoing it would not be appropriate to provide further investigative details and potentially jeopardize the investigation," Const. Vujasic said in an emailed statement.

Miranda Desa, the Canadian counsel for the U.S.-based non-profit Last Chance for Animals, said that the group had filed a complaint on Sept. 30 and another follow-up complaint in late October based on the use of dolphins and Beluga whales for entertainment.

A member of Last Chance for Animals visited Marineland on Aug. 3 and Aug. 16, according to Desa. She said they recorded videos of dolphin and Beluga whale shows and sent them to police with their complaint.

"The complaint focused on the use of dolphins in the dolphin shows, as well as the use of Beluga whales on the side of the pool, who were instructed to perform tricks for food in front of park attendees," she said. 

"Footage was obtained of the dolphins doing flips, bending on the side of the pool, having a dolphin dance party and performing other tricks on command to music in front of a live audience."

CBC requested but has not yet obtained nor reviewed the footage.

Under a section of the Canadian Criminal Code introduced in 2019, captive cetaceans — large sea mammals such as dolphins and orcas — cannot be used "for performance for entertainment purposes" unless the performance is authorized with a licence from the Ontario government.

The new law was part of Bill S-203 passed in 2019, which banned the captivity of cetaceans after years of debate. It included a grandfather clause, however, for animals that were already in captivity.

"[The Act] really has to do with moving beyond this phase in our history, where cetaceans are put in these positions that we know are difficult for them. They're incredibly intelligent creatures who belong in the wild where they can swim in the ocean," Desa said.

Marineland declined to comment on the complaints due to the pending investigation. However, in a statement, it said that while federal law allows any province to issue a licence to perform an entertainment show, "there is presently no developed licensing regime in Ontario."

"Marineland has, in any event, changed its focus to education, conservation and research and since 2019 puts on an education presentation for guests not an "entertainment" show. No license is required for our education presentation," the statement said.

"Effective education is both informative and entertaining and Marineland hopes the presentation it provides our young guests is both memorable and effective in teaching them about our incredible marine mammals."

Marineland has faced other complaints this year. This past May, Animal Welfare Services inspectors issued two orders to the park to repair the water system in the pools that house beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, sea lions and a killer whale. The report said the animals were in distress because of the poor water quality.

Marineland appealed the order, denying that the animals were in distress.

In July, Marineland faced another complaint from the non-profit Animal Justice that alleged that Marineland was breaking the law by subjecting an orca to conditions that don't meet her physical and mental needs. Online videos appeared to show Kiska, an orca, floating listlessly and moving slowly. 

She has lived since 2011 without the company of other orcas, leading an advocate at Animal Justice to call her the "world's loneliest orca."