Former workers at the Niagara Falls Marineland say animals are suffering illness, injuries and death because of neglect, blamed on a staffing shortage.
In an expose article, The Toronto Star highlights a string of cases where animals have been suffering needlessly due to neglect.
The Star spoke with 8 former workers who say that what the public doesn't see are the animals that have become sick, suffered fur loss, skin damage and even blindness because of a continuing problem of unhealthy water. And they say chronic staff shortages have left trainers unable to properly care for the sea mammals.
Reporter Linda Diebel points to Larry, a harbour seal that arrived at Marineland 8-years ago, that has now gone blind because of repeated exposure to unclean water. Trainers say Larry is just one of several seals that have lost their sight at the facility. Sea lions Baker and Sandy had to be confined in dry cages, to prevent further damage to their eyes. Diebel reports that videos shot in 2011 and 2012 show them "writhing in pain or plunging their heads into a single bucket of clean water." Sandy died last month.
She also highlights the case of five female dolphins that swam in murky green water in a concrete pool, laying at the bottom of the pool or thrashing wildly depending on what chemicals were being used. Their "skin fell off in chunks, their colour darkened and they refused to eat." Diebel claims that lasted for several months until just before show season in May of this year, when their water was finally changed.
There are many more heart-breaking incidents that she uncovered.
Marineland had five killer whales (orcas) in 2004, but The Star reports that four have since died. The lone surviving orca Kiska has been alone since November of last year, something that is banned in the US because of the animals need for social interaction with other orcas.
The Star claims to have photos, videos and documents to support what the former workers are saying. Three of the eight decided to speak out publicly, despite signing non-disclosure agreements. Former employee Phil Demers says he resigned this past spring after 12 years as a senior trainer, “I realized I was no longer part of the solution. I was part of the problem.” “I can’t train animals that are sick and compromised.”
But John Holer, owner of Marineland for more than 50 years denies all the allegations saying the water is fine and there is more than enough staff to look after them. "We take care of the animals, better than I would take care of myself.”
The Star reports that there are no government regulations in Canada for sea mammals in captivity. The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums issued a license for Marineland in 2007 and Diebel says National Director Bill Peters says there haven't been any complaints.