Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

P. 8: More news, lawsuits, OSPCA and government orders
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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby chemical_echo » Fri Aug 24, 2012 8:27 am

Marineland says the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums has found no "major issues" at the Niagara Falls, Ont., facility.

In a release issued late Thursday, the amusement park says experts from CAZA and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a joint inspection.

This follows a series of published reports in which former Marineland staff alleged animals were not being properly cared for.

Dr. June Mergl, head of veterinary services at Marineland, said the allegations were without context, and that maintaining the welfare of the animals is a "balancing act."

Marineland says the CAZA experts noted there are "some eye issues in a few animals," but most are related to old age and all of these animals are under veterinary care.

Marineland is home to a variety of creatures, including beluga whales, dolphins and orcas.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/08/24/toronto-marineland-ospca-inspection.html

Of course everything will look fine and dandy when you invite them in for an inspection.
The SPCA and CAZA need to do surprise inspections in both the off, and operating, seasons.

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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby robbalvey » Fri Aug 24, 2012 2:52 pm

I gotta be honest here - after reading the past few pages, having visited the park several times, and also having visited a LOT of marine and animal parks, some of which in pretty crappy countries and conditions, I never saw anything at Marineland that would strike me as overly alarming.

Trust me on this, as we have seen some animal exhibits in some far off places that were REALLY sketchy, I've never seen anything at Marineland that looked anywhere near that bad.

To me, I feel the truth lies somewhere between the "ex-employees" and what the park is saying.

Personally, I think our members have been pretty unfair to the park in some of the responses having nothing more than an article from former employees in an over-sensationalized journalism world to base their comments on.

I kinda thought many of our members would have known better and that kind of disappoints me.

I'll have no problems visiting this park again...unless perhaps something concrete IS discovered and then I'll revisit my thoughts on the matter.

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Last edited by robbalvey on Fri Aug 24, 2012 7:42 pm.

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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby Blatch » Fri Aug 24, 2012 7:03 pm

robbalvey wrote:I gotta be honest here - after reading the past few pages, having visited the park several times, and also having visited a LOT of marine and animal parks, some of which in pretty crappy countries and conditions, I never saw anything at Marineland that would strike me as overly alarming.

Trust me on this, as we have seen some animal exhibits in some far off places that were REALLY sketchy, I've never seen anything at Marineland that looked anywhere near that bad.

To me, I feel the truth lies somewhere between the "ex-employees" and what the park is saying.

Personally, I think our members have been pretty unfair to the park in some of the responses having nothing more than an article from former employees in an over-sensationalized journalism world.

I kinda thought many of our members would have known better and that kind of disappoints me.

I'll have no problems visiting this park again...unless perhaps something concrete IS discovered and then I'll revisit my thoughts on the matter.

--Robb


Agreed. As far as I'm concerned, I've also read these past few pages, and it seems to me that the users here are undermining the journalism aspect here. I signed the petititon mentioned earlier, and I do feel that it's possible something could be wrong here, but since I can't visit the park, I have no concrete proof of anything being wrong.

If I do ever get the chance to visit this park, I will, but I will keep the information on the things in this thread in my mind, in case something completely shocking ever comes up.
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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby kidcoaster 2 » Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:37 pm

robbalvey wrote:Personally, I think our members have been pretty unfair to the park in some of the responses having nothing more than an article from former employees in an over-sensationalized journalism world to base their comments on.


Your right. My original response was a little over the top with out having proof when these employees could just be over exaggerating this.

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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby ginzo » Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:14 am

I'm not inclined to revisit this park because as a rides-oriented person, I didn't feel this was a good value. It's like $40 for an old Arrow looper, a kiddie coaster, and a really good drop tower. I have a similar feeling about SeaWorld, but at least SeaWorld has pristine marine/animal exhibits. Marineland does not.

Would I visit Marineland again as part of a TPR trip? Hell yes! I bet ERT on Dragon Mountain is a hoot.

I think everyone should visit Marineland at least once because it's so bizarrely spread out. Such a giant parcel of land for so few attractions.

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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby spongey » Mon Aug 27, 2012 12:44 am

Believe me any suffering going on at Marineland is from the people that actually are in attendance at any given day.

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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby kidcoaster 2 » Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:24 pm

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—After an extensive Toronto Star investigation into the treatment of sea life at Marineland, serious allegations are now being levelled about the diet and conditions of its land animals.

Casual brutality when animals need to be put down is common and substandard enclosures are prevalent, according to Jim Hammond, the former land animal care supervisor at the facility who resigned last year.

It was the death of a little Red deer in the summer of 2010 that was the final straw for Hammond at Marineland. The deer’s foreleg was badly broken, with the bone sticking out, and it had to be killed. Hammond accepted that, but it was how the deer died he’ll never forget.

Hammond, an 11-year veteran at the sprawling facility, begged owner John Holer to bring in a vet to euthanize the animal. He says Holer refused, instead taking out his 12-gauge shotgun, shooting the deer and then driving off. But the wounded animal didn’t die.

“He was twitching quite a bit and his head would flop up and down,” Hammond recalled. The deer had been shot through the windpipe and was gasping for air.

He called Holer at home to say the deer was still alive and asked if he could call the vet to “do it right” or would Holer come back. According to Hammond, Holer refused, telling him: “I just got back to the house and got sitting down . . . You’ve got a knife in the back of the wagon.”

Hammond acted reluctantly.

“I don’t want to dramatize it, but when you do that to an animal, you remember it,” said Hammond, a big guy who clasped his hands and stared bleakly at the floor. “And it was a dull knife . . . If you take a dull knife across hair, it’s very hard to cut. It was like trying to cut into concrete. And you’re there not for a few seconds, it’s a few minutes.”

He paused and struggled to speak. “I’m ashamed.”

The Star could not independently confirm Hammond’s account, and Marineland would not address his version of events.

“As always, we are focusing on what we do best: ensuring our guests enjoy their visits to our park, confident in the knowledge that all of our animals are well cared for,” said Marineland’s marketing director, Ann Marie Rondinelli, in refusing an interview or to provide written comment on shooting animals rather than having them euthanized

Hammond said it wasn’t unusual for Holer to shoot his animals from his truck. He spoke to the Star after seeing the series on Marineland, in which former employees blamed serious health problems in sea mammals on poor water and a shortage of trainers.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals, in conjunction with the Niagara Falls Humane Society and the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, announced an investigation, expected to be completed soon.

In the wake of the Star investigation, hundreds of readers wrote to express concern over the health of Marineland’s animals. Some also said they had complained to the humane society and/or OSPCA, without results. Others asked when the Star would pay attention to the plight of the deer, bears, elk and bison. Wrote one reader about the deer: “They were filthy and scraggly looking and were living . . . with no grass or shade.”

PHOTOS: Meet the animals of Marineland

Tayler Staneff, a volunteer with the Niagara Action for Animals, said she has complained to the Niagara Falls Humane Society several times in writing. In August 2010, she complained that land animals were in “horrible condition, but did not even receive the basic necessities (of) food, water and shelter” and asked for an official investigation.

She included a video with her official complaint. Staneff emailed the Star: “I was told that I was giving ‘hearsay’ information, even though I had sent video evidence of what I was telling them.

“I was told numerous times (by the humane society) that they have a veterinarian there to look after the animals.”

TheStar failed in repeated attempts to speak to Marineland vets about conditions. Rondinelli did not respond to another written request Friday.

According to CAZA director Jim Peters, the investigation by his group, the OSPCA and the humane society includes land animals at Marineland.

CAZA has written animal care guidelines that include a risk-free environment, opportunities to exercise, provision of adequate shelters for protection from sun, rain and snow and “facilities . . . for the isolation and treatment of sick or injured animals and for the quarantine of newly arrived animals.”

Hammond, who grew up working on the family dairy farm, has a diploma in agriculture management from McGill University and was hired in a supervisory role. He found it hardest to deal with the manner in which some animals died. He said Holer would cull the herds by driving through the grounds and shooting them from his truck.

The Starcalled the humane society to ask whether it’s acceptable for Holer to dispatch animals in this manner. Nobody called back. The agency has also ignored numerous calls to discuss readers’ complaints.

Const. Richard Gadreau, social media officer for Niagara Regional Police, said in an email: “John Holer is within his rights, as is any other animal owner to do that.”

Gadreau said he’d consulted with the humane society for his answer.

Peters, of CAZA, said there are no restrictions against shooting a sick animal, adding that the self-regulating agency is developing a policy on euthanasia.

Hammond will never forget sawing into the neck of a dying deer with his knife. “When you are putting down an animal, there’s a humane way to do it,” he said.

“He has two very capable veterinarians to put down the animal and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a lot more humane way than using a firearm to do it. Because a firearm is not always accurate.”

Holer, 76, opened Marineland 51 years ago. It has since grown into a 400-hectare zoo, aquarium and amusement park.

In a visit Sept. 5 to the tourist attraction, the Star saw about 80 Sika and Fallow deer, far fewer than earlier in the summer. In July, for example, there were dozens more deer, some of them limping and some with grotesque growths and wounds on their bodies. Hammond said the tumours are the result of inbreeding. (The park also has larger Red deer.)

Several Marineland sources, all involved with marine mammals, said there was a massive cleanup in the wake of the Star series once it was announced there would be an inspection by authorities.

Else Poulsen, a biologist and consultant on captive wildlife management, has worked at the Detroit and Calgary zoos. She criticized overcrowding of deer in a concrete and gravel enclosure, with only a little shade along the fences and no privacy areas. She said that begging for pellets in sugar cones (sold for $2.50 each) isn’t healthy. They can’t graze as they’re used to doing throughout the day as there is no grass and no trees with leaves to eat.

As well as sweets, visitors often feed what they want to the deer, with few staffers to stop them. Their regular diet includes a mixture of oats, barley and corn, as well as grain, according to Hammond.

Poulsen, who was asked to inspect the land animal facilities for Zoocheck Canada, a national animal protection charity, simply paid her $48.53 entry fee and walked into the park.

During her recent visit, Poulsen documented a Sika deer limping, with red and raw sores on her hindquarters.

In a report for Zoocheck, she wrote that the concrete grounds are dangerous because “deer can fall and hurt themselves when being chased by humans or antagonistic deer.”

Hammond said deer break their legs in wire mesh at the feeding station, when they are pinned by pressure from hungry deer behind them. He couldn’t estimate how many times that’s happened other than to say “it’s not uncommon.”

Howard Smith, a retired big-game biologist with the provincial ministry of natural resources, runs Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, a Muskoka animal rehabilitation centre. He said: “The environment should be as natural as possible. Deer live in open country and mixed forest and need grass and natural shade.”

Smith said he hasn’t been to Marineland, but that as a biologist who’s always rehabilitating injured animals on his 190-hectare compound, he is in regular contact with animal welfare groups throughout the province and has heard about Marineland.

There are also problems at the bear compound where, as with deer, the primary daytime activity appears to be begging for food from tourists. These are animals that, in the wild, wander through their own territories and are noted for their survival skills, particularly in outsmarting fish. They are usually solitary creatures, or in groups of a mother and cubs.

At Marineland, 15 black bears are held in a cramped enclosure with four dens, two feeding stations, a moat with filthy water and a tourist booth that sells corn pops in sugar cones. Tourists lean over a barrier above and toss the sugar pops down to the bears, a practice animal behaviouralists have criticized.

“Bears are sentient creatures, highly intelligent and complex with daily routines (apart from winter denning) in the wild,” said Poulsen. “The bears are apparently there only so humans can feed them corn pops,” she said.

It was tough, said Hammond, to hear newborn cubs squealing in the spring, knowing they would end up dead, devoured by adult males. There was no enclosure for birthing mothers and no way to keep the young protected. Hammond said you’d hear them and then, “one week you’d go in to clean and there would be only silence.”

He said at least four cubs — two pairs born in separate years — perished in this way. He also said he complained to Holer but was told that it’s the circle of life — some animals live and some die — and there was nothing to be done.

Naomi Rose, chief scientist at the Humane Society International, has visited Marineland on two occasions and said she was repulsed both times by treatment of sea mammals and land animals.

“Tourists watch the bears up to their chests in water, straining upward and slamming into each other to catch a single corn pop,” she said in an interview. During one of her visits, she was horrified to realize an inert bear was actually dead. Soon after a bulldozer came in and scooped up the carcass to take it to a mass grave on the Marineland property.

Several trainers told the Star about a massive grave. In one particularly gruesome story, a former trainer told of having to pull in a crew to dig up a killer whale carcass because the brain hadn’t been preserved after the necropsy.

Rose chronicled bears with rotting teeth from all the refined sugars and patches of missing fur. She criticized the lack of space and argues that only dominant aggressive males have den access. “Bears cannot exercise normal behaviours due to the presence of too many dominant males.”

As well as the candy, bears get a daily diet that includes lettuce, tomatoes, grapes, oranges and beef, according to Hammond.

However, Hammond says there has to be a “delicate balance” in feeding the bears so that they are hungry enough to go after corn pops tossed by tourists from a platform. After the park closes and the bears are fed, Hammond said fights are common because they don’t get enough food.

After 11 years, a month and a day, Hammond decided he’d had enough. He already couldn’t get the image of having butchered the Red deer in July 2010 out of his mind. A family member who asked not to be named said he’s never recovered from having to kill the Red deer.

“It really messed (him) up,” said the relative. “It still haunts him.”

Over the winter and spring of 2010-11, a number of Fallow deer were kept in another part of the sprawling Marineland complex. In the spring, their hooves became very soft as they walked around on mud.

Hammond recounted how they were moved to the regular deer area at the start of the tourist season. There, they must walk on concrete and gravel and immediately developed hoof ulcers. “This would be severely painful for them,” he said, “and we wanted to set up healing foot baths for them. But John wouldn’t go for it.”

At the start of his shift on July 6, 2011, he said he went into his office, took a look at his diploma and asked himself what he was doing there when he couldn’t change anything.

“For that reason, I walked out . . . I know I’ll never go back to the park again, but I’m always wondering about the animals.”


www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1253334--marineland-allegations-of-poor-treatment-of-deer-bears

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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby rollin_n_coastin » Fri Sep 14, 2012 4:08 am

^This article has been around for a week or two. It's important to note that although some may not agree with zoos or marine life style parks, nothing of wrong doing has been found by the investigation to date, including the Humane Society. Heresay can be powerful and moving for sure though. It's great that the paper is doing its job by bringing potential areas of concern to our attention but an account by one person doesn't give us all the facts. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Marineland in comparison to a Sea World or from an attractions perspective. I'll still wait to hear from the investigation before passing judgement on the place though.

chemical_echo wrote:
Marineland says the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums has found no "major issues" at the Niagara Falls, Ont., facility.

In a release issued late Thursday, the amusement park says experts from CAZA and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a joint inspection.

This follows a series of published reports in which former Marineland staff alleged animals were not being properly cared for.

Dr. June Mergl, head of veterinary services at Marineland, said the allegations were without context, and that maintaining the welfare of the animals is a "balancing act."

Marineland says the CAZA experts noted there are "some eye issues in a few animals," but most are related to old age and all of these animals are under veterinary care.

Marineland is home to a variety of creatures, including beluga whales, dolphins and orcas.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/08/24/toronto-marineland-ospca-inspection.html

Of course everything will look fine and dandy when you invite them in for an inspection.
The SPCA and CAZA need to do surprise inspections in both the off, and operating, seasons.


In all fairness, the main areas of concern were the conditions of older animal enclosures and water quality, which were addressed in the investigation. It would be really hard to change your physical plant in a few weeks. It usually takes them a decade to build something after all ;)
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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby rollin_n_coastin » Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:06 am

Inspectors take only a day, give Marineland a clean bill of health
Published on Friday September 14, 2012
Linda Diebel and Liam Casey
Staff Reporters

It took only a day for inspectors to give Marineland the thumbs-up in the wake of a Star investigation and public complaints about animal care at the Niagara Falls facility.

In a recent Starseries, former trainers blamed chronic health issues among sea mammals, including the recent death of a baby beluga, on staffing shortages and sporadically poor water at the park.

But as three inspectors from the Canadian Association of Zoo and Aquariums left Marineland a week later on Aug. 23, they told owner John Holer the health of marine mammals looked “very good” and the preventative medicine program was “comprehensive.”

That same evening, Marineland put out an upbeat press release to say it had a clean bill of health.

This week Holer cited that positive report — “there were no major issues” — in a letter to Niagara Falls city council as he responded to a proposed motion calling for provincial licensing of facilities like Marineland.

“I have reviewed (Holer’s) letter and it correctly states the views of the inspection team,” wrote Bill Peters, national director for the self-regulating association, in an email to the Star.

But at the same time, he said, the broader investigation of the popular tourist attraction has not been completed.

Inspectors routinely sit down in an exit interview and present “major issues, major concerns, lesser concerns and just the sort of top line, overall, what the inspectors saw.”

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ordered an investigation of Marineland after angry public reaction to the Star series. It’s being done jointly with CAZA and the Niagara Falls Humane Society. The OSPCA and the Humane Society also visited Marineland on Aug. 23, though they have not yet released their findings.

OSPCA officials declined to address questions on whether CAZA’s early endorsement compromises the entire Marineland investigation.

Agent Brad Dewar, OSPCA investigations and communications officer, asked the Star for a copy of Holer’s letter to Niagara council, but did not respond to questions.

The OSPCA has said only that the investigation continues.

The Niagara Falls Humane Society has not returned repeated phone calls about the investigation, or about official complaints forwarded by Starreaders. A plaque in the lobby thanks Holer for donating the building.

As Holer requested in his letter, Niagara Falls council voted on Tuesday to defer Councillor Janice Wing’s motion that urged the province to require licences for zoos and aquariums, and sought to ask Ottawa to prohibit the import and/or export of captured sea mammals.

“It’s been known and recognized that something has to be done (in terms of regulations) for years,” Wing said in an interview. “As one of the communities with such a facility, it’s incumbent on us to show leadership on this issue by calling for more stringent regulations.”

She added: “I correct that. It should be regulations, period.”

Her motions were deferred until after the report on Marineland.

“Presently, Marineland is assisting CAZA and the OSPCA with their inquiries, which Marineland anticipates will be completed within the month,” said Holer’s letter. “Following the completion of those inquiries Marineland would welcome the opportunity to . . . respond, if appropriate, to the proposed resolution, in which it has expertise and a clear interest.”

Marineland closes for the season after Thanksgiving weekend.

Niagara residents have been buzzing about the Marineland series, said Wing, adding many have expressed sympathy for her resolutions. In a letter to council, one citizen called Marineland a “stain” upon the community.

CAZA inspectors at Marineland were: business manager Greg Tarry; Clément Lanthier, president and CEO of the Calgary Zoo, and; Martin Haulena, a staff vet at the Vancouver Aquarium. Both the Calgary and Vancouver facilities are CAZA members.

Peters said the amount Marineland pays annually to CAZA in dues is confidential.

Lanthier and Tarry interviewed four trainers from the Star series by telephone. As well, Peters said CAZA requested records on animal care and water quality from Marineland.

Neither the OSPCA or the humane society contacted any trainers.

However, Phil Demers, who left as senior marine mammal trainer in May, and Jim Hammond, land animal supervisor until July 2011, filed written complaints with the humane society. Hammond also sent his complaint to CAZA.

After a Star story last week in which Hammond described poor enclosures for bears and deer and, in his view, the needless deaths of bear cubs, the humane society went back in on Monday to inspect land animal premises.

Ontario Community Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur, who oversees the OSPCA, said she “was in tears” over the series and “would have preferred” to know about problems beforehand.

There are no regulations for sea mammals or animals in captivity in Canada, other than through CAZA. Canada stands virtually alone among developed nations in its lack of enforceable standards either for captive sea mammals or for the importation of wild-caught animals.

The OSPCA Act covers animal cruelty but, Meilleur said the act may require strengthening.

An ex-supervisor who tested water at Marineland handed over records to the Star that showed repeated episodes of water problems, particularly during eight months from September, 2010, to opening day in May, 2012.

Photos obtained by the Star showed eye damage in several sea mammals, and, in one video, sea lions Baker and Sandy were kept in a dry pen with only a single bucket of water. They had to be kept out of the water, according to Demers and other trainers.
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Re: Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Postby beatle11 » Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:23 pm

Some more news has surfaced over the last couple weeks.

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1314938--marineland-ordered-to-stop-burying-animals-on-site


The Ontario government has ordered Marineland to stop burying dead animals on its grounds immediately.

The Ministry of the Environment gave the Niagara Falls tourist attraction a strict timetable to carry out a series of orders, which includes a comprehensive assessment by an environment firm of the entire park and interviews with current and former employees who have knowledge of the grave sites.

The ministry conducted the inspection after the Star inquired about regulations surrounding mass animal graves. The issue arose as part of a Star series about the treatment of animals at the park.

The onus is on Marineland to disclose what is buried there.

The ministry made it clear that Marineland, which never obtained an official permit for burials, must comply with all government regulations. There will be further monitoring and it’s not clear whether the site will even hold any more buried animals, according ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan.

Marineland must post a notice of the government order and its details in a conspicuous place, no later than March 8.

It’s also up to Marineland to disclose the presence of any other mass graves and “all materials buried,” according to the ministry.

“The environmental firm must do further digging, testing and monitoring of all waste disposal sites,” Jordan said. “There will also be a survey of the entire site, where they will use equipment that can detect things under the ground.”

In December, the Star called the ministry to ask about the rules and environmental impact of four mass graves, one with more than 1,000 corpses, as detailed by former supervisor Jim Hammond.

The ministry didn’t know the graves existed. Within two days — Dec. 20 and 21 — officials inspected the ground and dug two pits for soil and water testing. They also sampled the Welland River, both upstream and downstream of Marineland.

Owner John Holer opened the marine and animal park in 1961. The graves contain the bodies of killer whales, belugas, dolphins, seals, sea lions, buffalo, deer, bears and other animals.

The preliminary results of two test pits and Welland River sampling show no contamination has occurred. New sites will now be tested throughout the 1,000-acre (405-hectare) park.

“That indicates the graves aren’t having an impact on water quality in the river,” Jordan said.

Marineland didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

By Feb. 1, Marineland must submit a proposal for staff interviews, for further testing of the grounds, and for the preparation of a series of maps showing all other waste or burial sites.

“The plan must be acceptable to the issuing provincial officer,” the order said.

By March 1, Marineland must have started the work under the supervision of a qualified environmental consultant.

By May 3, Marineland must submit a written report to the ministry. It must include, “at a minimum,” the documented interviews of former and current staffers, results of all surveys and investigations of the grounds, and “a list of the types of wastes processed or buried at the site,” and “an estimate of the volume of each waste type.”

The ministry will also use a magnetometer to search for any buried metallic objects.

If Marineland wants to continue burying animals on site, the park must apply for a permit from the environment ministry to operate a disposal site.



http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1317233--ospca-orders-marineland-overhaul


The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ordered Marineland to clean up its water and deal with health issues among specific animals, an OSPCA source told the Star.

Until now the orders have been kept secret.

There are a total of seven OSPCA orders — five to be completed by the end of this month and two that have already been complied with, according to the source, who felt the public has a right to know but asked to remain anonymous for fear of being fired.

The orders include:

• building shelters for the deer, covered by two orders.

• building a structure to protect bear cubs from being killed by males in inadequate dens.

• bringing in a marine mammal ophthalmologist to deal with eye issues among pinnipeds (seals, walruses and sea lions).

• arranging for increased veterinary care for a particular pinniped.

Also, Marineland was ordered to hire an outside expert for a full assessment of its water and filtration system, and implement an environmental enrichment program for the lone killer whale, Kiska. Both these items have been completed, the source said.

Marineland did not respond Friday to questions about the orders.

If Marineland fails to comply, the OSPCA can lay charges.

The orders were issued months ago after a Star exposé on conditions for animals at the park, but kept secret — standard practice according to spokesperson Alison Cross.

“This is an ongoing investigation,” she said. “To protect the integrity of the investigation we cannot speak to details at this time.”

Such secrecy by the OSPCA, a private charity with $500,000 in annual provincial funding, has been widely criticized.

“It’s a totally dysfunctional organization,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees, who accuses the OSPCA of lacking transparency.

The orders are part of the organization’s overall investigation into the Niagara Falls tourist attraction after the Star series. Former Marineland trainers and supervisors blamed ill health, even death, on sporadically poor water quality and a lack of sufficient staffers. To date 15 whistleblowers have stepped forward.

The orders cover specific health and habitat problems cited by the Star.

Meanwhile, Ontario Public Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur is working to give the OSPCA more powers. She told the Star this week her ministry, which oversees the OSPCA, is closing loopholes, including the most controversial one.

Last fall, the OSPCA announced it couldn’t, under the OSPCA Act, examine animals that were under veterinary care at Marineland.

Meilleur said her staffers are rewriting the act to remove that restriction, as well as other changes which would license aquariums and zoos and beef up standards of care.

The OSPCA source said the overall problem is that the society is “kind of out of its element” with Marineland. “We’re used to dealing with dogs and cats and a wide variety of farm issues.”

Meilleur’s comments come as a new premier is set to be chosen in a leadership convention next weekend and the expected announcement of a new cabinet soon after.

Meilleur said a new leader shouldn’t make a difference.

“My successor will follow up on what I started because it’s a priority for our government,” she said. Her ministry is expected to announce changes to the act in the spring.

Meilleur said her staffers have been working on the changes since August, adding that most are regulatory but licensing zoos and aquariums may require a new law.

A Meilleur spokesperson said the minister isn’t aware of the orders because she’s “arm’s length from the OSPCA and has nothing to do with operational decisions.”

After the Jan. 31 deadline, the OSPCA plans to send in an inspection team to ensure the orders have been followed. The source said even though it’s believed Marineland has taken care of its water problems: “I have no doubt that the investigators will double check on the first two orders (water assessment and improvements for Kiska) just to make sure.”

Kiska lived alone in a concrete pool without enrichment, such as toys and games for mental stimulation, and a lot of interaction with trainers. Whistleblowers told the Star that Marineland owner John Holer doesn’t believe in enrichment for marine mammals; the park refused to comment Friday.

The marine mammal supervisor quit in December and former trainers are worried about the sea mammals. Marineland wouldn’t comment Friday on whether a replacement for the supervisor has been found.

One of the OSPCA orders detailed measures for eye issues. The Star stories included accounts of seals including Larry with red, swollen eyes and sea lion Baker, whose irritated lens popped out.

At the time, Marineland vet June Mergl told Newstalk 1010 that the animals shown in photos obtained by the Star are elderly and are under constant veterinary care. Eye problems were caused by age and not water quality issues, she said.

Mergl has never responded to Star requests for an interview.

It’s unclear which pinniped requires extra veterinary care, beyond care by an ophthalmologist.

“The (animal) wasn’t in immediate danger; if it was, we would have seized it, although I don’t know if we have a place to put it,” said the source.

The Star also described problems with land animals, including deer living in pens without access to foliage or minimal shade. Former land animal supervisor Jim Hammond said at least four cubs have died in recent years because there are no enclosures for birthing mothers and no way to keep the young protected.



http://www.niagarathisweek.com/news/article/1567724--marineland-sues-animal-rights-activist

Dylan Powell faces $1.5 million suit

The co-founder of Marineland Animal Defense says Marineland can sue him, but he won’t be silenced.

St. Catharines resident Dylan Powell is facing a lawsuit, after a statement of claim was filed against him by Marineland in court on Dec. 21. The lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction restraining Powell and his supporters from trespassing on Marineland porperty, as well as property owned by Marineland owner John Holer, as well as the Niagara Falls Animal Medical Centre, and any property belonging to Marineland veterinarian June Mergl, or property owned by any other Marineland employee. The suit also seeks $1.5 million for general damages.

Powell said the suit is the result of growing numbers of activists demonstrating at the park, after news coverage by the Toronto Star alleged animal abuse and neglect in the Niagara Falls park.

“Marineland has tried to counter this growing public concern by taking to the courts and filing what I believe is a SLAPP suit — a strategic lawsuit against public participation — a common tactic to try to shut down public debate,” Powell said in a written statement regarding the lawsuit.

The statement of claim by Marineland alleges Powell and “the activist” met with former trainer Phil Demers to engage in a series of “escalating violent and other unlawful activities” with the intent to “injure Marineland, its employees and guests, and Mr. Holer personally.” It further alleges Powell and the activists stormed Marineland “illegally” on Oct. 7, 2012, and “engaged in deliberate, aggressive, intimidating, threatening, hostile and very loud shouting in order to halt the marine mammal show.”

The statement of claim also indicates Powell and his group arranged further demonstrations and “engaged in a prolonged campaign of harassment and intimidation”, including a march that started at the Niagara Falls Animal Medical Centre, and ending at Holer’s home.

Powell, in an interview with Niagara this Week, said he denies the allegations in the statement of claim. He is now trying to rally for support alleging in his written statement that “Marineland will be attempting to ‘spend me into the ground’.”

“We will be organizing to use what resources we have to neutralize them,” he said, calling on support from animal advocacy and social justice organizations throughout Ontario and beyond.

Powell is kicking off a speaking tour to try and help raise funds in his defence. The tour begins with a talk on Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Niagara Animal Defense League office, 281 St. Paul St. (suite 201). He will be speaking, there will be music, vegan food, baked goods and more. Admission is by donation, with a suggested entry of $10-$20, although he said nobody will be turned away.

“It’s a chance to raise awareness and talk about some of the background on how we go to where we are today,” said Powell. “Most important it’s just a chance to show solidarity and for the community to show it supports the cause.”

Future talks, he said, are planned in Dunnville on January 25, in Buffalo on January 31, as well as talks in February in Kitchener-Waterloo, Port Dover, London, and other communities across southern Ontario.


http://www.wellandtribune.ca/2013/01/29/ex-marineland-employee-files-counterclaim

Former Marineland animal trainer Christine Santos has filed a counterclaim seven weeks after the the marine-animal theme park filed their defamation suit against her.

In her claim, Santos, a 12-year employee of the Niagara Falls park, says she was fired Oct. 17 after she refused to sign a written statement prepared by Marineland stating that she didn’t witness any animal abuse during her time of employment.

Her statement of defence was filed at the St. Catharines courthouse on Tuesday. The counterclaim says Santos is looking for $750,000 in compensation for wrongful dismissal, mental distress and punitive damages.

Marineland’s lawyer, Andrew Burns, declined to comment when contacted by The Review, but the park issued a statement saying it stands by its original suit. In December, Marineland filed a defamation suit against Santos in the amount of $1.25 million over allegations of animal mistreatment she made that were reported in a Toronto newspaper.

“The next time (Santos’s) claims will be tested will take place in court where we will be seeking a very substantial penalty in damages,” says Marineland’s statement.

On the day Santos was fired she gave an interview to a Toronto newspaper describing what she alleged as numerous instances of animal abuse and neglect.

The article with Santos’s concerns about a 37-year-old Orca whale named Kiska was published Oct. 18. She said Marineland does not employ sufficient staff to provide an appropriate level of care for animals and allowed Kiska’s physical condition to worsen.

In her statement of defence, Santos said she’s not responsible for her reports appearing in the media.

“Santos specifically denies that she published the statements as alleged,” reads the court document, “and states that if any publication in fact occurred, it was caused by others and not by her.”

She said while her reports are true, they weren’t defamatory of Marineland.

“If the plaintiff’s reputation has been injured… then the injuries have occurred as a result of Marineland’s own abuse, neglect and mistreatment of its animals and through no other cause,” reads the statement of defence.

Marineland said veterinarians and animal welfare organizations, such as Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, have proven allegations of animal abuse and neglect are false.

Santos also said she felt pressured by Burns in October to sign the written statement dismissing any animal abuse occurring during her employment.

“Suffering from shock and extreme anxiety, she was unable to read the statement and requested that her supervisor review the contents,” the statement of defence says.

She said she was handed a letter of termination shortly after.

Marineland said Santos never complained she felt intimidated.

“Her allegations were never reported at the time to Marineland or anyone else,” says the park’s statement. “The first time she has made any mention of any of these issues is in her claim for close to $1 million.”

Santos is requesting the original Marineland action and her counterclaim be tried together in front of a jury.

Timeline:

Oct. 17: Christine Santos’ employment terminated at Marineland after 12 years
Oct. 18: Santos’ concerns about the health of 37-year-old orca Kiska published in Toronto newspaper
Oct. 30: Marineland lawyer asks Santos to retract her comments
Nov. 29: Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums report says Kiska “in good health.”
Dec. 12: Marineland sues Santos
Jan. 29: Santos files statement of defence and counterclaim
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