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Ex-Trainer of Aquarium Reveals Harsh Conditions for Animals

A former employee of an aquatic animal park has given a damning account of the horrific conditions animals were forced to endure.
August 16, 2012 Updated: April 6, 2023
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A former employee of an aquatic animal park has denounced the conditions animals were forced to endure. Phil Demers resigned from Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in May after 12 years as a senior trainer. He said a major reason for his departure was that the poor water conditions at the park had a catastrophic effect on the health of the seals, sea lions, walruses, and dolphins.

‘The water had gotten so bad it was green, it was harming the animals, it smelled bad and it made the people who worked in this environment ill as well,‘ he told the Toronto Star. ‘The chemicals we were using to try to maintain the water were really harming the animals.’

In revelations that have outraged animal rights activists, he said he saw the dolphin’s skin was flaking off and that they could not open their eyes.

Recalling the condition of Seal Lions Baker and Sander, he said that they could not even train them to open their eyes as ‘the damage was so extensive that when we finally saw it, it was just grotesque.’

He told how the trainers would pull the animals out of the water to dry conditions to try and alleviate the damage but said as a consequence, not having access to fresh water also proved to be harmful to the animals.

Baker was writhing in pain, constantly shaking erratically, clutching his eyes shut,’ he said.

He explained that Sandy did not move for weeks on end, and to try and gain a monetary respite from the agony, Baker would constantly put his head into a bucket of fresh water.

Mr. Demers said he eventually removed Baker from the dry environment because he was concerned about his health.

He actually barked, and his eyeball lens had projected from his eye socket an landed on the floor; streams of blood were coming from his eye.’ He said Baker now swims in circles repeatedly, ‘with no real agenda.’  Mr. Demers’ disturbing claims have been backed up by seven other former Marineland staffers who also gave disturbing accounts to the newspaper.

Since the Toronto Star published the interview, many people have demanded the closure of the privately owned facility, which charges adult visitors $48.53 a ticket and children $35.95.

Zoocheck Canada has called on the federal and provincial governments to shut down Marineland.

We’ve been monitoring MarineLand for some 25 years and bringing these issues to various government agencies, and there has been no political will to deal with it.  We’ve raised the issue numerous times via the media.’

We’ve attempted to get a ban on the import and export of wild cetaceans and trade within Canada because we knew this situation has been ongoing for the longest time,’ said Julie Woodyer, Campaigns Director for Zoocheck Canada to Newstalk 1010.

John Holer, owner of the Niagara Institution for 51 years, told the newspaper that there was no water quality issue at the park.

He said there were sufficient staff to look after the animals, that all the facilities were legal, and denied that unhealthy water has harmed marine mammals.

Only last year, the aquarium was the center of controversy when it entered a custody battle with SeaWorld Parks. The dispute was over the return of SeaWorld’s breeding male orca, Ikaika, loaned from Orlando. SeaWorld officials raised concerns about the number of staff and training. Staffing numbers and training. They also claimed Holer did not allow trainers to attend workshops to update their skills. The case was ultimately decided by leasing legalities.


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