By the Animal Liberation Collective
NIAGRA FALLS, ONT -- Over the past few years the plight
of marine mammals in captivity has become a household issue, especially
since the release of the film series, "Free Willy".
In the battle to free marine mammals from human exploitation,
progress has been made -- for example, this year the Vancouver Parks Commission
is considering a ban on the import and export of whales and dolphins to
and from the Vancouver Aquarium. At the same time, England has already
closed all of its dolphinariums. With Keiko (the "Free Willy"
orca) in a rehabilitation centre to prepare for eventual return to freedom,
and the possibility of release for other whales and dolphins, captivity
is becoming more and more unacceptable - not just within animal advocate
circles, but with the mainstream public.
Industry propaganda states that aquaria and theme parks
are educational, conservation-oriented and "better" for the animals.
However, there are many fundamental problems with captivity. In the wild,
female orcas are thought to live 80 years, and male orcas about 50. Both
beluga whales and dolphins can live 25-30 years. In captivity they live
only a fraction of their normal life span.
Whales and dolphins are intelligent, highly social mammals
who live in small family groups. In captivity, they are often forced to
live alone, or in groups composed of unrelated animals. In the ocean, they
will swim up to 100 km/day, at speed of up to 30 km/hr., and dive hundreds
of feet below the surface. They live in a world of sound, have unique dialects
and use echolocation to detect each other and to capture live prey. In
captivity, they are restricted to small tanks in which they can only swim
in circles. The glass and concrete walls frequently inhibit the natural
use of sound by whales and dolphins.
In the wild, orcas live in an environment which is incredibly
rich and diverse, and to which they have become suitably adapted over millions
of years. Nothing in their evolution has prepared whales or dolphins for
life in captivity.
From August 31 - September 2 1996, the 3rd annual Gadfly
Conference was held in Niagara Falls. Gadfly is an international gathering
of marine mammal experts and animal activists who are all working to end
captivity of marine mammals. The conference consisted of reports about
the state of marine mammals in each of the countries represented by participants,
as well as tactics which have been used to encourage the release of captive
animals, and/or to close down dolphinariums, and progress reports on campaigns
to free specific whales and dolphins.
The focus of the weekend was a protest at the Canadian
marine mammal "fun park", Marineland, considered by experts to
be one of the worst marine mammal theme parks in North America. While Marineland
claims that their "facilities meet the high standards established
by the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the United States", Naomi Rose,
an official for the Humane Society of the United States who inspected the
facilities, found that in many instances, they did not meet requirements.
She stated as examples, that there was chipping paint and rust in the pools,
the tanks did not meet minimum size requirements, and the water quality
was below standard. One protester who went inside observed that the dolphins
eyes were swollen shut, possibly an indicator of over-chlorination.
One of the most disturbing (and least known) aspects of
Marineland is the "warehouse". This is a windowless facility
next to the main performance pool which houses a shallow pool in which
animals that are not involved in shows or are retired, are kept out of
sight. Some of its residents over the years include Duke, a retired dolphin
considered "too ugly" to perform anymore, and Junior, an orca
whose existence Marineland officials have never admitted, yet who was filmed
by a Friends of Dolphins volunteer just weeks before he died. Both of these
mammals spent their time in the warehouse totally alone, with no stimulation,
daylight or companions, and died there. The loud, booming echoes of the
nearby performance music forcefully reverberates throughout the warehouse,
adding to the stressful conditions for the animals housed there. At present,
there are two baby orcas housed in the warehouse, prematurely separated
from their mother. In the wild, orca offspring may stay with their mothers
Throughout the summer months of 1996, protesters gathered
in front of Marineland every other week to hand out flyers and educate
customers about the park's disregard for its captive "entertainers".
On September 1, more than 200 people representing over
20 countries, including Israel, Japan, Norway, England, Australia, France,
Finland, Canada and the United States, gathered outside of Marineland to
protest the practice of keeping marine mammals in captivity for the purposes
of entertainment and profit. Confronted with a 25 ft. inflatable orca whale,
lots of costumes and signs, and a flag representing each of the countries
of participants involved in the conference, Marineland was hit with the
largest protest it had ever seen.
While the protesters themselves were peaceful, there was
an exceedingly strong police presence, as well as plenty of hired security
both inside and outside of the park. Many patrons (including an entire
Mennonite family) were evicted from the park on the suspicion that they
were involved with the protesters. Several acts of civil disobedience took
place alongside the main protest, and two activists managed to shut down
most of the front gate entrances by locking their necks to the main turnstiles.
Dozens of activists slipped unseen into the park in the
attempt to carry out impromptu agit-prop theatre and hang banners over
the performance pools. Agitated and paranoid security guards harassed patrons
and activists alike within the park, only re-enforcing the prison-like
aspects of the theme park. Media coverage was outstanding, with the protest
and CD making national news coverage in both the US and Canada for several
In total, six protesters were arrested, including four
Canadian and two American activists. One woman was released, but charged
were Janet Allan (obstructing police), Wayne Mercier (mischief), Steve
Hindi (assault), Mark McAlpine (mischief) and Ben White (resisting arrest,
escaping custody and a trespass charge that was dropped). A trial date
has not yet been set, but expectations are that the activists will have
a chance to fight their charges before the court in March/April of '97.
Near the end of the day's protest, an act of violence
which has been played down by both the police and the media occurred. A
local protester -- known by sight to John Holer, the owner of Marineland
-- was leaving the protest site with other activists. Holer, known for
his acts of violence against animal rights activists (and who was, in the
past, filmed punching a member of the crew from Australia's 60 minutes),
was seen by numerous witnesses hitting the woman with his truck, knocking
her to the ground. The woman had only just managed to jump out of the way
and was fortunately hit only on the shoulder, however, she spent three
hours in the hospital suffering from shock and minor injuries. Even though
Holer left the scene (ie: hit and run) he has not yet been charged with
any offense by Niagara Region Police, despite evidence (skid marks, the
damaged side mirror to the truck, the injuries done to the protester) and
pressure from witnesses and the victim.
In Niagara Falls, allegedly spitting at security is a
criminal offense (hence Steve Hindi's assault charge) but if you're a millionaire
responsible for bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourist
money to the region, you can run people down with impunity and expect to
never be charged.
Anyone interested in helping with the activists' legal
defense fund can send donations to the Animal Liberation Collective,
c/o CSA, Level 2 UC, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Checks
or money orders can be made out to "CSA". Please be sure
to indicate that the funds are to be used for legal defense purposes. For
more information, please write to the Animal Liberation Collective at the
above address. Thank you for your support!
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