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article imageMarineland loses two customers over treatment of animals Special

By Elizabeth Batt     Aug 15, 2013 in Environment
Niagara Falls - Following a six-hour trip from Ottawa to Marineland in Niagara Falls, two park visitors have vowed never to return. After witnessing a bleeding seal and a walrus being kicked, both described their visit as "horrendous."
Julie McEwen and Samantha Emery visited the park on August 10 accompanied by another friend and her one year old son. It was a return visit to the park for both of them, McEwen recalls being just seven years old at the time.
"I remember it being a little bit better then," she told Digital Journal. Now, "it was way overpriced, $50 for admission," she said. But for both park guests, the shocks were just beginning.
Blood seeps into the pool after a seal with  a big open flesh wound on his side   vacates the platfo...
Blood seeps into the pool after a seal with "a big open flesh wound on his side," vacates the platform.
Samantha Emery
"The first thing we did was go in the aquarium into the viewing area where the seals swim in a tiny pool," McEwen explained, "and we saw a seal with a stomach wound laying on the platform and bleeding out." The blood, she told DJ, "was dripping down the platform and into the pool."
McEwen said the seal was bleeding out in front of everybody, but, "when the trainers came around, none of them took any proper actions to close down the viewing area," she explained, nor did they "get the seal out of the water for treatment of his wound."
Concerned over the seal's welfare, the pair located a Marineland employee and promptly asked, "do you know what happened to him?" McEwen said she was told that the seal's injury was, "just a flesh wound," and "you can't put a band aid on a seal."
"That made me sick," McEwen said, and "to this day, I'm not sure whether or not he got the treatment he needed." The visitors were further upset upon spotting a sea lion with white eyes. Both believed the seal was blind. "It was just so sad to look at," McEwen told DJ, "there were like eight seals swimming around a tiny pool filled with poop. Disgusting."
Samantha Emery only echoed her friend's experiences:
We entered the Aquarium where the seal and sea lions were and the first thing we see is the poor seal laying on his side dripping blood from a big open flesh wound on his side. As soon as the trainer opened the door, the seal jumped back in, which is why we weren't able to catch a picture, plus the fact that we were a little traumatized.
The seal also had an injured paw and appeared  terrified   park goers said.
The seal also had an injured paw and appeared "terrified," park goers said.
Samantha Emery
Emery added, "there was parents blocking their kids eyes because you could see the poor thing bleeding. It was very hard to get a picture since he was swimming around underwater and the water wasn't clear at all, very dirty." She wanted to get further pictures, Emery told DJ, but "I couldn't, because I couldn't bear to watch it anymore."
Alex Dorer, Founder and President of the organization Fins and Fluke, told Digital Journal, "this news certainly doesn't surprise me. When visiting the Marineland facility in May, I was utterly shocked to see that the "retired" seals and seal lions were forced to live in a damp, smelly and dark little room with little natural light."
Dorer, who took photos of the Seal Aquarium (below), explained that the Aquarium, "is one of the worst buildings," at Marineland in terms of habitat. "It's concerning to me," she said, "that they have no way to be outside or experience sunshine."
The only rest area the seal s have is indoors said Fins and Fluke President  Alex Dorer.
The only rest area the seal's have is indoors said Fins and Fluke President, Alex Dorer.
Fins and Fluke
Barred gates lead to small holding pens.  Many animals have lived out their final moments there   sa...
Barred gates lead to small holding pens. "Many animals have lived out their final moments there," said ex-trainer, Phil Demers.
Fins and Fluke
The seal area consists of one pool with a small ledge or platform for seals to rest on. The barred gates lead only to a small holding pen with a tiny wooden deck.
Catching the show
Having left the aquarium, McEwen and Emery headed to Friendship Cove, passing a small pool holding seven adult beluga whales. "These whales are huge," said McEwen, "and they definitely need more space."
The visitors also encountered Kiska, Marineland's only killer whale. "There is a pretty big pool with one miserable orca inside," McEwen observed, "it cannot be healthy for this whale to be confined in this pool by itself, when normally these animals travel and stay in packs?" she said.
Waiting for the show to begin, the visitors became concerned when they witnessed the beluga whales held in a side pool. This holding area McEwen noted, "was smaller than a regular backyard swimming pool."
During the show's finale the park goer told DJ, the trainers introduced a walrus whom she "believed to be Smooshi." Smooshi, McEwen said, came out "to say goodbye to the crowd and do some tricks." Both Emery and McEwen were shocked by what happened next.
McEwen explained:
This walrus looked incredibly tired and sick and was slow at turning around and doing her tricks so her "trainer" kicked her TWICE to get her attention and then gave her a fish. Hundreds of people sitting in the crowd witnessed this abuse. It is not okay.
Digital Journal spoke with Phil Demers about the seal's injury and whether the park's response was the norm for Marineland trainers. Demers, a former Marineland trainer himself, is being sued by the park for defamation, and was the original whistleblower featured in the series written by the Toronto Star.
The Star first revealed the poor conditions of the park and its animals in an exclusive series last year. Today, is the one-year anniversary of that exposé.
Former trainer weighs in
Demers worked primarily with Smooshi after she imprinted on him. The duo share an extremely close bond and relationship that was featured in this media report by CBC:
Demers told Digital Journal that "many animals have lived out their final moments," in the small holding pens of the Seal Aquarium. As for the treatment of seals when he worked at the park, Demers explained:
If a seal were bleeding when I ran the stadium and aquarium, there is no way in hell I would leave them a) untreated, and b) on display. The remaining training staff collectively have little to no training experience, and it's showing.
Demers added that depending on the severity of the injury, "I would certainly have the wound cleaned and either sewn shut, or treated with antibiotic cream and capsules."
It would have been important to keep the seal dry, he explained, "as traditionally the dirty water would be cause for greater issues." In the interim Demers said, it is "far greater to have the animal dry briefly (until healed), than to have him continue to bleed."
The ex-trainer also told DJ that he wasn't in the "least shocked to learn that the trainers did nothing." Following a recent incident where a trainer was injured during an interaction with a beluga whale, Demers explained:
It's no different than having witnessed the debacle of the injured trainer, who lay in the slide out of the show stadium writhing in pain while the show simply went on. These are simply more examples of my exact concerns and one of the very causes for my speaking out about and leaving Marineland — and subsequently being sued for millions of dollars, I might add.
Julie McEwan agreed that the trainers seemed unaware of how to handle incidents with its animals. "Lots of young children and parents witnessed this injured seal," she said, "the trainers and caretakers seem so incredibly uneducated ... especially the one who kicked Smooshi. I am pretty sure they would hire anyone willing to work there at this point."
Demers doesn't however, blame the trainers. "I feel badly for the trainers," he explained, "because I know of their challenges. It's unfair to lay blame on them for the bulk of the issues, because they simply don't know any better. Every decision that is made at the park," he added, "has to be run past the owner (including the bulk of the veterinarian treatments). Some things have not, nor will ever change."
Demers also expressed disgust at the poor conditions seen in Emery's images. "The Aquarium is full of blood and shit," he said, and "that is simply unacceptable." The trainer acknowledged that he had seen similar after watching a YouTube video of the sea lions. "Coral the sea lion is resting on a stage saturated with urine and feces," he said. "She looks like hell — this broke my heart."
Marineland's walruses, particularly Smooshi, hold an extra special place in Demer's heart, and he expressed serious concerns to DJ over their condition. Just two days after McEwen and Emery's visit, a newly uploaded video to YouTube showed that instead of introducing a walrus to open the chest, as was the norm, a human wearing a costume was used instead.
Demers said that although he couldn't confirm if Marineland had altogether eliminated the walrus portion beyond this one video he has seen, that the park had replaced them at all, was a red flag. Elaborating further, the ex-trainer explained:
The timing seems to suggest that whatever issues they had with the walruses lately caused them to stop using them in the show (perhaps in the interim until whatever problems stop). This could be health or behavioural — either way, it suggests there are BIG problems with the wallies (walruses). John (Holer, Marineland owner), would never approve of not using a walrus in the show. This is very concerning.
McEwen shed further light on the issue, and told DJ:
They bring out the person in the costume at the beginning of the show to explain that the treasure chest needs to be opened by the "winning team." The person in the costume replaces the walrus until the very end of the show, when they bring the real animal on stage to say goodbye to the crowd and do a couple of tricks. So the real walruses are not completely replaced, but only appear for a very brief amount of time.
As for the kicking incident, Demers said he would be "shocked if a trainer kicked a walrus," but if the trainer was in danger, he could see them, "resorting to such things." Still, he called the limited presence of walruses in the show, "concerning as hell," particularly, he explained, "when combined with the kicking incident. Something is definitely going on," he concluded.
For McEwen, going back to Marineland is no longer an option. She described her experience as horrendous. "I'm an animal lover," she explained, "and it absolutely broke my heart to see these animals mistreated and abused this way. I'll do anything I can for this place to be shut down. These animals deserve a better life and Marineland cannot give them that."
Emery only echoed her friend's sentiments. She told DJ, "I was super upset because honestly it was a horrible time, I was on edge and super upset the whole time."
For Demers, his bond and concern for Smooshi, is ever present and at times overwhelming.
"The few photos and videos I've seen of Smooshi show her doing exactly what she always has," Demers said, "she looks for me. The trainers," he continued, "do not have any of her attention, and because our separation causes her a great deal of anxiety, she continues to regurgitate compulsively."
Having to observe this in his beloved walrus, "breaks my heart," Demers said, "it is unnecessary," he added. "If it were Marineland's will, she could be helped. She could be saved."
The city of Niagara Falls this week allowed Marineland to lease more land. According to NiagaraThisWeek, the City leased the land to the park, despite concerns raised by activists and two members of council.
More about marineland animal abuse, marineland canada, phil demers, john holer, Niagara Falls Canada
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