A visitor takes a photo at Marineland in Niagara Falls, ON.
Credits: Mike Dibattista Niagara Falls Review/QMI Agency
Executive director Jay DesRoches, three inspectors from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), a representative from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and two other marine mammal specialists spent two hours and 40 minutes inside the amusement park, examining the conditions and living quarters of the animals.
"There are some issues that we need to follow up on," DesRoches said. "Any concerns the OSPCA would have, we would give Marineland a timeline to rectify. The removal of animals is always possible."
The humane society official said the inspection team only examined the marine animals in the park because that's what a complaint filed by former trainer Phil Demers focused on.
"We looked at how they're kept, where they're kept and all relevant information," DesRoches said.
The inspection comes a little more than a week after photos and video were released of animals that appeared to be in poor health condition. Demers, who worked at the park for 12 years as a sea animal trainer, quit in May and then went public with allegations of animal mistreatment and deplorable water conditions.
The OSPCA has the power to perform random and unannounced inspections under the Ontario OSPCA Act. If they feel it's necessary, the agency can charge zoos and aquariums with animal cruelty and force the removal of animals.
Asked if this was considered a surprise inspection, DesRoches said yes.
"It has been in the media quite a bit, but I believe it was a surprise inspection even though it was so publicized."
He said there was a delay in going into the park after complaints were made last week because a team had to be assembled.
"To amalgamate a panel of experts ... took a few days," he said.
The inspectors met early Thursday morning at the Niagara Falls Humane Society office not far from Marineland and arrived at the park at 9 a.m. They headed into the park without any escort from the park's staff, and met up with the other four marine animal experts inside.
Marineland owner John Holer was seen getting into a golf cart and heading toward the group just after they arrived, and the park owner spoke with the eight inspectors near the end of their visit.
As the group toured the park, they inspected all of the marine mammal facilities, which house seals, sea lions, walruses and whales, including a lone killer whale named Kiska. In the U.S. it's illegal to house killer whales by themselves, but no similar law exists in Canada.
Inside Marineland, some tourists were talking about the allegations while others seemed oblivious that anything was happening.
Tammy Szczyglowski, who came to the park from Toronto with her husband, said she wanted to see the condition of the animals for herself.
"When I heard the conditions might not be very good, that made me sad," she said. "I just hope they're well taken care of. But you see the size of them and you see the size of the tank. And so many are in there."
After Thursday's inspection, OSPCA inspector Steven Toy said the agency would be releasing a statement addressing the visit.
"We can't say anything at this moment," he said.