The captive animal facility Marineland Canada has faced opposition for almost as long as it has been putting animals in tanks. Any definitive history of that opposition would mark Marineland Animal Defense as merely a chapter, a distinct and unique part of that long history. We wanted to provide a brief and informative introduction to what it is that does set us apart though for those coming to this issue who might not know it.
The roots of the Marineland Animal Defense campaign began in the summer of 2009 as the local animal advocacy organization Niagara Action for Animals returned to hosting demonstrations outside of the facility after an intense legal battle that had ended in 2006. The demonstrations throughout the 2009 and 2010 season were largely symbolic, 2-3 demonstrations a summer, however, the community was growing and passionate about the issue.
In the offseason of 2010 some of the younger advocates in the community were learning more about the history of the animal liberation movement – specifically the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs, Save the Hillgrove Cats and the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Campaigns. These campaigns, that originated in England in the 1990’s and 2000’s, were all grassroots animal liberation campaigns that focused on building community and increasing pressure against animal use industries. Inspired by these campaigns, the idea was passed around to create the first ever dedicated campaign against Marineland – called Marineland Animal Defense. Shifting advocacy away from broad animal rights focused groups only capable of holding symbolic demonstrations and into a dedicated campaign with a full demonstration schedule, it’s own website, social , literature, logo and more.
The first Marineland Animal Defense demonstration took place on opening day on May 14 2011. 40 activists joined from throughout Southern Ontario to hold signs and leaflet the entrance. The rest of that season was memorable both by the police presence and the presence of park owner John Holer – who frequently showed up at demonstrations to threaten demonstrators. With over a dozen demonstrations that first year our largest demonstration pushed over 60 activists and saw the Niagara Regional Police respond with 8 Officers, 6 vehicles and a Court Services Van. Amazingly, we made it through that first year undeterred by the police presence or the threats of Mr. Holer. By the end of the season we’d also been included in major news outlet stories on the court battle that was brewing between SeaWorld and Marineland over the custody of Ikaika – an Orca on loan to Marineland from SeaWorld that SeaWorld was demanding back. That coverage would later turn into a full profile on Holer himself and set the stage for the 2012 season.
The 2012 season began with an Opening Day demonstration for a closed facility. Marineland Canada, just a week before opening, announced they were pushing their Opening Day back. Still, close to 100 activists came out for a demonstration and later marched on the Niagara Falls viewing area sharing leaflets with tourists. The details of why the facility was closed came out later that summer as 7 former employees had joined together to share testimony of their experiences at the park with the Toronto Star – kicking off an investigative series that began on August 15, 2012. Through that testimony we learned that the Opening of the season was pushed back because conditions had forced Marineland to dump the water in their tanks and bring in new water. Those employees detailed chronic issues with the water quality in that 2011-2012 offseason and their investigative series testimony lead to 8 more employees joining them before the end of the 2012 calendar year. The news coverage sparked by the investigative series saw demonstrations swell. Our first demonstration after the story broke saw 500+ out front of the facility – topping the previous demonstration record at Marineland of the 1996 Gadfly Demonstration of 300+ advocates. That pressure remained for the remaining demonstration schedule and escalated to an 800+ Closing Day Demonstration on October 7, 2012 with Ric O’Barry that saw hundreds of activists spontaneously jumping the turnstiles shutting down the final dolphin show of the year.
Predictably, in the 2012-2013 season Marineland Canada shifted their focus to trying to silence this massive opposition by filling lawsuits. Between December 2012 and July 2013 6 lawsuits were filed – against activists (including the MAD campaign), against ex employees and against the Toronto Star who ran the investigative series against the facility, claiming a total amount of damages in excess of $12 million dollars. Again, undettered, advocates responded in kind making the Opening Day Demonstration on May 18 2013 the second largest animal advocacy demonstration in Canadian history and the new record at Marineland – 1,000+ activists joined to oppose the facility and also its attempts to silence critics. Marineland would escalate in turn, bringing Marineland Animal Defense to court in August 2013 for an injunction hearing and securing a limited court order against the campaign and the Co-Founder Dylan Powell. Advocates kept the focus though, kept up the demonstration schedule, and finished the season with four days of demonstrations against Marineland Canada and also the nearby captive animal facility African Lion Safari.
Still involved in civil litigation, and looking for new ways to increase awareness, the MAD campaign decided to call for the first ever “March on Marineland” to open the 2014 season. The first time advocates had ever marched on Marineland, in 40+ years of opposition, the march saw over 500 activists march down a 400 series HWY, passed an International Bridge and through the tourist district of Niagara Falls on it’s way to the facility. From there we went back to court in June 2014, this time successfully defeating a motion by Marineland to expand their injunction. Since then, we have participated in three global days of awareness against captivity – Empty the Tanks, Freedom for Dolphins and Whales and Japan Dolphins Day – all building up to our Closing Day Demonstration on Sunday October 12, 2014.
Since our inception we’ve held over 40 demonstrations, received international press, spoken at dozens of universities and conferences, leafleted to thousands of people and survived over 600+ days of civil litigation from Marineland. In North America, we’ve held the largest animal advocacy demonstrations for three straight years, and globally we’ve held the largest anti-captivity demonstrations for as long. Our power has always been in face to face, grassroots community building and “people power” – the ability of regular every day people to join together and create change. We’ve intentionally tried to inspire others to carry on this tradition, the one we picked up from the UK, and also done our best to build coalitions and present a broad view of social justice. Mistakes? We’ve made a ton. However, we are constantly reminded of why it is so important to stand up and fight and not give up. Captive animals resist and their resistance has to be our guide. If we give up, or ever lose hope, they are the ones who will suffer. If it is not enough, we must try harder. We must find new ways, new strategies, new tactics and new ideas. That was the basis for founding this campaign, and years later that is still the foundation that moves us forward. We’ve faced land leases, endless legal threats, fences, smear campaigns and intimidation, but we will not stop until the animals captive at Marineland get the justice they deserve.
Join us, and help us complete this history and close down Marineland.