Since the early 1970’s, 17 killer whales (orcas) have died at Marineland of Canada with an average age at the time of death just over 8-years-old. Over the same time period SeaWorld has lost 36 orcas at its 3 U.S. parks with an average age just under 14-years-old.
Although recent evidence has suggested that wild, male orcas live an average of 30+ years and females 50+ years (and many well into their 80s, 90s or longer), it is truly unusual that one marine park, SeaWorld, would sue another, Marineland of Canada, citing numerous concerns over animal welfare. In what is normally a close-knit, secretive and self-governing industry, it is rare that dissention amongst their ranks would expose their shadowy inner-workings.
However, this was the case in 2011 (reported HERE by The Orca Project) as an international custody battle pitted these two marine parks against each other as SeaWorld attempted to regain custody of Ikaika (Ike), a young male orca on a breeding loan to Marineland.
Poor dental health, infection, bacteria, stress, breeding, compatibility, aggressive behavior, trainer safety, etc were all entered into evidence in Canadian courts by SeaWorld’s attorneys in their eventual success to return Ike to the United States. The ultimate decision came despite the fact that many of the same problems exist at all of SeaWorld’s parks… as well as Marineland… with all of their captive marine mammals.
With Ike’s return to the U.S., Kiska (estimated to be 38 years old) remains as the lone female orcaat the Canadian facility since she was captured in Iceland in 1979.
Now, for the first time ever, former animal trainers at these two parks are banding together to expose how this multi-billion dollar international industry has literally been riding on the backs of these highly intelligent and socially complex mammals for many years.
Ever since the unfortunate death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau 3 years ago, Samantha Berg, a former SeaWorld trainer herself, has been outspoken about the detrimental effects of captivity and how animal welfare, health, education and conservation are not at the top of any marine entertainment facility’s agenda. (Read The Orca Project’s Exclusive interviews with Samantha Here and Here). As a growing contingent of former trainers came forward to form the group Voice of the Orcas, Samantha (Sam) has remained steadfast in her resolve to raise awareness about the marine mammal entertainment industry and to share her experiences and expertise.
Today, in an Orca Project exclusive, Sam shares her interview conducted with former Marineland of Canada animal trainer Phil Demers. He, along with fellow-trainer and girlfriend Christine Santos are embroiled in yet another Marineland controversy as owner John Holer is suing both for speaking out about the well-documented sub-standard conditions at the Niagara Falls marine park.
Samantha’s story and interview of former Marineland trainer Phil Demers continues below:
As a former SeaWorld marine mammal trainer, I, along with my colleagues at Voice of the Orcas, have been actively involved in getting the message out about the suffering marine mammals face in captivity, even in those facilities that meet or exceed current government standards. However, some people may be unaware that there are many marine mammal parks, zoos and aquariums in the world that do not even meet the minimum standards for animal care and well-being, and the animals in those facilities suffer horribly.
Last year, Phil Demers, an animal trainer who had worked at Marineland Ontario for 12 years, quit his job and started to speak out in public about the unspeakable animal suffering he witnessed while working at the park. One of his issues was the water quality in the facility was so bad that it was actually damaging the animals eyesight and causing irreversible physical harm. You can read more about that story here in the Toronto Star.
Recently Phil and his girlfriend Christine were both sued by the park’s owner, John Holer, even though the truth that they have shared with the public has been well-documented in the media. Phil and Christine are in desperate need of financial support to help them in their legal fight against the park.
The former trainers also need support and solidarity from the Marine Mammal community at large. Anyone currently working in the industry (or formally in the industry) would not want to see their animals treated in the same way that Marineland has been treating theirs. It is a stain on the entire marine mammal industry to have a substandard facility that can’t adequately care for their animals being allowed to bully and intimidate their employees just because those employees have bravely come forward only to ask for better conditions for the animals under their care. The only reason Phil and Christine have had to quit their jobs was because they could not find a way to change anything from within the company, so they have had to leave the animals they love in order to find help elsewhere.
Also, it is important that the entire cetacean rights community comes to the aid of Phil and Christine as quickly as possible. If they are unsuccessful in fighting back against Marineland’s bullying, then Marineland’s tactics will effectively have succeeded in that future whistleblowers, like Phil and Christine will be less likely to step forward in the future.
Thank you in advance for your support!
Samantha Berg, M.Ac., L.Ac., Dipl.AC.
~ Former SeaWorld Trainer on behalf of Voice of the Orcas
The following is an interview I conducted with Phil, so he can tell you his story directly:
Samantha Berg (SB): Can you tell us a little bit about what has been going on at Marineland? Why did you decide to quit?
Phil Demers (PD): Back in May of 2012 I made the difficult and desperate decision to leave my job of 12 years at Marineland of Canada as a result of what would best be described as deplorable and worsening conditions for the animals at the park. This came after repeated attempts to have the issues resolved in house by myself and other members of the marine mammal, land animal, and building maintenance departments. Saying goodbye to the animals and team members was one of my life’s most difficult decisions. In or around July of the same year I decided to participate in an investigation by the Toronto Star newspaper along with what would eventually become 15 whistleblowers to expose the park for its poor treatment of the animals. I came out in the media on Aug 15th 2012 (click HERE to read more) and served on Feb 12th 2013, with more suits being threatened my way.
SB: Who is Smooshi?
PD: Smooshi is a wild caught pacific walrus that came to Marineland in 2004 in poor health. Through a traumatic experience, and my attempt to console her, a phenomenon known as imprinting occurred in which she immediately recognized me as a maternal figure. I can’t adequately express what this bond meant to both Smooshi and I, but her suffering proved a catalyst in all of my decision-making, and continues to strengthen my resolve to defend her and all the animals at Marineland.
SB: What happened to Christine? How did she get fired?
PD: Christine is my girlfriend of nearly 7 years and also a former employee of Marineland. After I came out publicly as one of Marineland’s whistleblowers, life at the park became increasingly difficult for her. She was harassed, intimidated and ultimately fired after 12 years as one of the parks most dedicated and hardworking senior marine mammal trainers She is in fact the face of Marineland’s iconic commercial, as the girl who gets kissed by a beluga whale. More importantly though, she was Kiska’s (Marineland’s lone remaining orca whale) primary trainer. Shortly after being fired, Christine joined the whistleblowers and expressed her concern for Kiska’s poor health. Marineland’s harassment and intimidation continued, until Christine was ultimately served with a defamation lawsuit, claiming $1.25 million in damages. Christine was fired on Oct 17th 2012, and served on Dec 13th.
SB: What do you think Marineland hopes to gain by suing you?
PD: In launching the lawsuits, Marineland intends on silencing it’s critics, and punishing those of us who have stepped forward in defense of the animals. They also intend on ultimately bankrupting us as few people have the resources to contend with corporations, and even though the frivolous lawsuits are by and large absurd, the process of defending is very costly and as a result very effective in its intentions. As targets, we are being made examples of for others thinking of stepping forward.
SB: Do you have a lawyer to help you in the case?
PD: I do not have legal representation yet.
SB: What is yours (and Christine’s) current situation?
PD: Christine is working part-time now and I have yet to find employment. One of the consequences of being thrust upon the front pages of international media in some of the most peculiar capacities is that prospective employers are apprehensive to give me a chance, which is another bi-product of Marineland’s continued bullying.
SB: What are the legal costs and how much has been raised at this point?
PD: We’ve currently raised $21k (including a generous donation of $5k from Sam Simon) and hope to raise an additional $10k in the next 2 weeks. Our first legal bill came in around $12k and we’re perilously close to running out of funds. This cost only reflects Christine’s lawsuit, as I’ve only recently been served. Suits of these natures are estimated to cost in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
SB: What will be gained by you and Christine having the resources to fight in court?
PD: The benefit of this process however is that if we sustain this battle, Marineland will be forced to open up their books, substantiating the whistleblowers claims, and revealing much of the parks much guarded records.
SB: Is there anything people can do to help you and Christine?
PD: The best way to help is to donate to the indiegogo/marineland site, and to follow me on twitter @walruswhisperer to keep up to date with the proceedings and to keep the plight of Marineland’s animals alive. Much work remains ahead.
On a side note to this story, Phil has remained steadfast in refuting Marineland’s claims. “I never trespassed onto the park, nor have I plotted to steal Smooshi, as much as I wish I could see her again… my lawsuit is completely absurd.”
The Orca Project would sincerely like to thank Samantha Berg for her contributions to this story and for her undying commitment to helping the captive animals in need. You can visit Samantha’s page at Voice of the Orcas HERE.
The November 29, 2006 attack on trainer Ken Peters by a killer whale (Orcinus-orca) named Kasatka led to an investigation by California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, much akin to the more recent OSHA investigation into the brutal death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
Although the injuries sustained by Peters were relatively mild by comparison, the video which was shown in court proceedings this past Fall led Administrative Law Judge Ken Welsch to describe the footage as “chilling” as he ruled to uphold the charges in the SeaWorld vs OSHA case. SeaWorld was appealing the OSHA citations issued to the marine park after Dawn Brancheau’s death.
Following the 2006 Peters event- in their report- CAL/OSHA concluded “The contributing factors to the accident, in the simplest of terms, is that swimming with captive orcas is inherently dangerous and if someone hasn’t been killed already it is only a matter of time before it does happen.” Due to intense pressure by SeaWorld and some political wrangling, the report was later rescinded.
Since then, two orca trainers have been killed within the pools of marine parks- Alexis Martinez in December 2009 at Loro Park in the Canary Islands (by Keto, an orca on loan from SeaWorld) and just two months later Dawn Brancheau was pulled into the water by Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando.
The full 15 minute video from 2006 of Ken Peters being repeatedly dragged to the bottom of the pool can be seen below as well as the initial report issued by CAL-OSHA. (The final OSHA report after rescinding the above statements can be found HERE).
For all of the details on this video and more on the Ken Peters incident, please visit the following links by David Kirby, author of a new book “Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whale Captivity” (St Martins Press) released July 17, 2012:
Near Death At SeaWorld: Worldwide Exclusive Video ~ Huffington Post
WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE: NEAR DEATH AT SEAWORLD ~ http://www.deathatseaworld.com
Video shows whale attacking trainer at Sea World ~ CBS News This Morning
The full 15-minute attack video can be seen below (Note- There is no audio with this video):
By months end, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment must decide whether it will accept the decision handed down by an Administrative law judge last Wednesday. The order by the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission fundamentally upheld citations issued to the Orlando, Florida marine park by OSHA following the brutal death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010.
SeaWorld appealed the August 2010 citations during nine days of highly publicized hearings last fall. At stake was the most egregious violation “for exposing animal trainers to struck-by and drowning hazards when working with killer whales during performances”.
“OSHA’s intent has been to ensure the safety and health of employees who work with SeaWorld’s killer whales in performances,” said Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “In his decision, the judge has upheld the OSHA citations. That is a win for the employees of SeaWorld.”
In his rather scathing order, the honorable Judge Ken Welsch unequivocally highlighted the “very high gravity” of SeaWorld’s apparent knowledge of hazards that resulted in the death of the veteran trainer.
A leaky pool, sanitation issues, and a deteriorating roof at Miami Seaquarium’s killer whale stadium are threatening the welfare of orca Lolita and the dolphins housed in the oldest, smallest, and most decrepit marine park pools in the United States.
A recent inspection conducted by the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) found several issues with the structure which poses a risk to the marine mammals housed in this facility which are supposed to be protected by the regulations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The structural deficiencies may also pose significant risk of injury to employees and the hundreds of daily visitors to the Key Biscayne entertainment facility.
…..Continue reading →
The skeletal remains of a killer whale (Orcinus orca) were exhumed on Tuesday to become part of the display at the Taiji Whale Museum in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan.
Nami, also known as Nami-Chan, died January 14, 2011 at the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium just 7 months after being transferred there from her captive home of 24 years in Taiji.
According to Japanese news reports, Nami’s body was returned to Taiji seven months ago and buried to allow for decomposition of the 28-year-young killer whale. She was the last surviving orca captured in Japanese waters.
Captured off the Taiji coast in October of 1985 when she was barely 3 years old, Nami was forced to perform at the Taiji Whale Museum in an enclosed sea pen at the seaside marine park for 24 years. In June of 2010 she was sent by barge to the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium to become a part of a breeding program in conjunction with Kamogawa SeaWorld. It is during her stay in Taiji where she is suspected to have ingested some 491 stones weighing 81.4 kilograms (179.5 lbs) found lodged in her stomach during a necropsy performed following her death.
…..Continue reading →
In a futile attempt at damage control, the Dolphinarium Harderwijk has published an article in Zooquaria Magazine, a quarterly publication of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) following the November transfer of rescued orca Morgan to Loro Parque in Tenerife.
The 1-page article is published in the appropriate section: MEDIA AND PR, because it’s nothing more than that. And it definitely doesn’t contain anything “scientifically sound and realistic”:
…..Continue reading →
Recently released photos reveal more damaging evidence into the haphazard management of killer whale care and trainer safety at SeaWorld’s Orlando, Florida theme park. The Orca Project has obtained photographs from the 2010 OSHA investigation into the death of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau, which appear to show harmful chemicals stored with the food supply for killer whales at Shamu Stadium. The placement and storage of the potentially toxic materials are not in compliance with OSHA Standards for employee safety and are clear violations of the Animal Welfare Act, placing the orca’s nutritional supply at risk for contamination.
…..Continue reading for in-depth details and exclusive photos →