Every summer ’round these parts, Ontarians are subjected to the repeated onslaught of Marineland commercials, the supposed mecca of all creatures aquatic and a few non-aquatic, located in Niagara Falls, Canada. Their jingle:
Everyone loves a holiday,
Watching the whales while they swim and play,
They jump in the air
Splashing waves in your hair,
Everyone luuuves Marineland!
(I’m afraid there’s more…)
In Niagara Falls, Ontario,
It’s always a fun place to go,
Seeing friends you miss,
A great big kiss,
Everyone LUUUVES Marineland!
Recently, ecoSanity.org took a day trip there to see what’s what. We considered it an important photo op but, despite our opposition to the existence of such theme parks, we also thought it would be cool to view all the marine and other animals.
Well, it WAS cool to view them. It just wasn’t cool to view them in that oppressive, unnatural, poorly maintained, environmentally negligent, commercially exploitive and disrespectful setting.
The drive westward from Toronto past the industrial towns of Burlington and Hamilton (full disclosure: yes, we drove, and not in a hybrid), was through a bright, overcast, polluted haze.
Lake Ontario sits immediately south, not far from the QEW highway. No exaggeration, we couldn’t even see it! All we could see was the glare of endless, gray…whatever.
We crossed two epic bridges: the Burlington Skyway just before Hamilton and the St. Catherines “Garden City” Skyway just before Niagara Falls.
These bridges are so immense that you can hardly believe they’ve been conceived and built. I couldn’t imagine the resources and manpower the process of their construction must have required, let alone the amount of emissions that must have been produced.
Upon our arrival in one of two loooooong parking lots to either side of the main park entrance, each packed with a disproportionate number of large pick-up trucks, SUV’s and minivans as far as the eye could see (no kidding), we began our way across the scorching asphalt.
I was stunned by the number of vehicles that were there and I wondered what the park’s daily carbon footprint would be if it included all the tourists’ mileage traveling from all over southern Ontario, northern New York and elsewhere.
Once inside, we noticed the maps we’d been given had no indication of being recyclable and there were no recycle bins anywhere.
There was also no reference to an environmental policy, no request to avoid feeding the animals anything other than their animal feed, no request not to pollute and no reference to the endangered reality of many of the species.
Though built in the 60’s, it was more like a time warp to the 70’s. Food kiosks featured caramel corn and sugar cones. The main restaurant, the “Hungry Bear and Beer Garden(!)” featured greasy, old-school fried food, the kind you use to get at highway rest stops.
Even the pictures of the food looked like they hadn’t been updated in 30 years. I think if anyone were to request a salad or anything vaguely healthy, they’d be removed.
Our first stop was “Aquarium Dome” – dirty, overcrowded tanks of sickly, many near motionless, fresh water fish. Not an impressive start.
Below ground in “Friendship Cove”, we viewed two orca (“killer”) whales. I put “killer” in parenthesis because I understand that this popular belief is an unfortunate myth and that they are, in fact, very friendly creatures.
At rest and vertical with their heads near the surface, they just floated in place. When we returned later, they swam slow circles together; around and around, again and again.
Then came “Deer Park” – if you call a huge, open area of sun-baked cement separated from the actual woods by a surround of solid log fence, a park.
The deer were huddled in a thin sandy ridge of shade, mostly trying to breathe. They seemed overfed and under-exercised. One especially pathetic deer (shown below) was by itself in the sun and had several growths on the rear of its body.
In “Bear Country”, the man-made lake was brown and sludgy. Don’t know if that’s good or bad, I just know the water didn’t look right and there were pop cans floating in it.
With no source of shade, the bears had little energy to do much of anything other than wade in the water in an attempt to stay cool.
Children were throwing corn pop-like bear feed to them and one bear (shown below) appeared to have a large wound near its behind.
“Fish-Feeding lake” was also brown and sludgy and the few fish we could see appeared docile and unwell.
Underground at the “Arctic Cove”, we viewed a crowded tank full of beluga whales. They seemed lovely, friendly and social, they just shouldn’t have to live in those damn tanks!
And finally, there was “The King Waldorf Stadium Show”.
Poolside, one dolphin came right up to the glass wall and checked us out – spectacular creatures that have been around for 10 MILLION years (We’ve only been around for 200,000).
In the setting of a medieval court, period-themed music accompanied the arriving crowd until an unfortunate opening routine cast one trainer in the role of a mentally challenged person for laughs.
Seals took their pedestals. Sea lions waved and mooned the crowd, rolled over and performed whatever other ‘amusing’ tricks they’d been bribed to do.
The dolphins had been lured into a holding tank to one side of the main tank just before the start of the show. At last, they were unleashed.
They raced to a driving beat, dove deep and burst from the water on cue.
One danced upright across the surface on its hind fin.
Then, after several minutes of that, not even half an hour after the show began, it was over.
The crowd was elated, but as kids flocked to the side of the pool for more, we all felt ill about what we’d just witnessed.
Incredible? Definitely. Worthy of our support? Not for one second!
Like a bad reality show, this circus for profit exploits the worst in all of us and we should be ashamed!
It was especially troubling because the animals seemed so majestic (whales), so playful and intelligent (dolphins), so harmless (seals, sea lions).
I was reminded of the “King Kong” movies, where Kong is kidnapped from his island, brought to New York and revealed to the public, drugged and in chains as a circus sideshow.
It was as if their captivity gave them a dignity beyond any of the human trainers or patrons. We were – all of us – totally out-classed!
Sure it can be argued that young children may better bond with the animals in person than they might otherwise or that they need to be studied, but Marineland is not a scientific institute.
The only borderline educational moment or mention of concern for the creatures was when an announcer uttered one entire sentence about increasingly polluted habitats. She spoke with all the disinterested passion of someone who had made the speech a thousand times and would make it a thousand more, but had long become numb to her own words.
By this point, we were too bummed out about the place to go on any rides which, by the way, have no moral association with captive animals whatsoever.
Judging by how Marineland runs their operation, apparently decades behind our environmentally urgent times, they should not receive one dollar of our money when it could be so much better spent on the massive effort required to attempt to minimize the imminent threat and rapidly intensifying global emergency of climate change that threatens to render all of these animals – and us – extinct!
And so we returned to metropolis, demoralized and more than a little queasy.
Upon hearing of our trip, a Greenpeace associate informed us that anywhere from 2-6 whales die there each year and are buried on site.
A few other tidbits: During the winter, those that are unable to withstand the colder temperatures are housed in an “Animal Care Facility”. I sure wouldn’t want to be one of them.
Fish are caught in the far away ocean, quick-frozen, boxed and shipped by the truckload and 1000 lbs are thawed and fed to the animals every day.
Marineland is currently undergoing a $160 Million expansion, the main focus of which will be a massive aquarium complex. When completed, it will be the world’s largest.
Love these animals. Support the environmental and social justice organizations that work to preserve the future habitability of our planet for them AND for us.
DO NOT LOVE Marineland.
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