Marineland of Canada sues Niagara Action for Animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2004:
St. Catherines, Ontario– Niagara Action for Animals has
appealed for financial help in defending against a lawsuit brought
against it by Marineland of Canada.
Opened in 1961, Marineland of Canada was the first
oceanarium residence of Keiko, the orca star of the Free Willy!
films. Captured off Iceland in 1979, Keiko lived at Marineland of
Canada for approximately two years before he was sold to El Reino
Aventura in Mexico City, where the first of the Free Willy! films
was made in 1993. Keiko died in a Norwegian fjord in December 2003
after an only partially successful return to the wild.
The Niagara Action for Animals web site and published
references to the group indicate that it is chiefly involved in
sterilizing dogs and cats.
Niagara Action for Animals has been involved in protests
against Marineland of Canada for approximately 10 years, coordinator
Daniel K. Wilson said, but the ANIMAL PEOPLE files indicate that it
neither started the protests nor was particularly prominent in
leading them until 2001.
“In October 2001, Niagara Action for Animals learned of a
local auto dealership,” AutoLand Chrysler, “that was planning a
staff Christmas party at Marineland,” Wilson said. On behalf of
Niagara Action for Animals, Wilson wrote to AutoLand Chrysler,
“requesting a meeting with the Christmas Social Committee to discuss
concerns we had about the marine park. The committee declined to
meet with us,” Wilson continued, “and the Christmas party took
place at Marineland as planned.”
Niagara Action for Animals was sued over the letter in July 2003.
“Marineland is claiming damages for libel, intentional
interference with economic relations, aggravated damages, punitive
damages, and [seeking] an injunction preventing us from republishing
any of the alleged libels,” Wilson said.
Friends of the Dolphin
Friends of the Dolphin founder Cara Sands appears to have
been first to draw activist attention to Marineland of Canada,
issuing critical reports about the facility after visits in May 1989
and January 1990.
In November 1991 Sands arranged a group visit to Marineland
of Canada by former trainer Dan Long, who worked there nine years
earlier; Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry, an anti-cetacean
captivity crusader since 1970; and Stephen McCulloch, then a
Dolphin Project staff member. McCullogh is now marine mammal program
director for the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort
Sands, Long, O’Barry, and McCulloch paid their way in,
like other visitors, and only made their presence known after their
“We observed the very squalid conditions the animals live
in,” McCulloch told Niagara Weekend staff writer John Lane. “There
was no educational value to the show.”
Wrote Lane, “The group, with a video camera, then
confronted the park’s head trainers, and world was sent to
Marineland president John Holer. When Holer arrived, McCulloch
recalled, he was very upset.”
Said McCulloch, “He literally ripped the video camera from
my hands and demanded that I surrender the tape. He told me that as
an American, I should go back home and mind my own business.”
Holer in November 1992 wrote to a Philadelphia activist that
“the literature about Marineland distributed by Ms. Sands and her
organization, that I have seen, is so inaccurate that its use could
be considered slanderous,” and mentioned a defamation suit filed
against three animal rights groups by the New England Aquarium “for
making false statements about the aquarium’s treatment of dolphins in
order to promote their fundraising activities.”
The New England Aquarium case was actually a countersuit
filed in response to litigation by Citizens to End Animal
Exploitation and Suffering, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the
Performing Animal Welfare Society. All claims on both sides were
dismissed in October 1993.
Unable to raise enough money to sustain Friends of the
Dolphin, Sands dissolved the group in 1998. By then, however,
Marineland of Canada had many other critics.
Renowned British Columbia whale researcher Paul Spong told
Doug Draper of the St. Catherine’s Standard in December 1992 that
facilities like Marineland of Canada should be banned. SHARK founder
Steve Hindi and Ben White, then handling marine mammal issues for
Friends of Animals and handling marine mammal issues for the Animal
Welfare Institute since 1997, were both arrested during a 1996
protest against Marineland of Canada. Humane Society of the U.S.
marine mammologist Naomi Rose in 1997 criticized Marineland of Canada
in terms similar to Spong’s.
Zoocheck Canada and the Canadian Federation of Humane
Societies in August 1996 sent a 16-page brief to the Canadian
Department of Fisheries & Oceans, the U.S. Department of Commerce,
and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, arguing that Marineland of
Canada should not be allowed to acquire any dolphins or whales from
the U.S. because the facilities do not meet U.S. size standards.
Marineland of Canada had, however, begun construction of a new orca
Zoocheck Canada in May 1998 produced a more extensive critique
entitled Distorted Nature: Exposing the Myth of Marineland, based
on testimony from 13 zoological conservation experts, and in 2002
followed up with a paper entitled Commentary on the Canadian
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) accreditation process:
Marineland of Canada, Niagara Falls. Both Zoocheck Canada reports
include perspectives from representatives of the World Society for
the Protection of Animals. Both are accessible at the Zoocheck
Canada web site.
The Marineland of Canada lawsuit against Niagara Action for
Animals asserts that six sentences in Wilson’s letter to AutoLand
Chrysler that gave directions to the Zoocheck Canada web site and
briefly discussed their content were libelous. Wilson paraphrased a
Zoocheck Canada summary of the Marineland of Canada import of 14
beluga whales and six dolphins from Russia since 1999, paraphrased a
Zoocheck Canada mention that “the imports occurred after the Canadian
Department of Fisheries and Oceans denied Marineland of Canada
permission to capture six beluga whales from Canadian waters in
Hudson Bay,” and also paraphrased a Zoocheck Canada statement that,
“Clearly, there are many legitimate scientific arguments against
Marineland of Canada does not appear to have challenged the
factual accuracy of the Zoocheck Canada statements. Although the
Marineland of Canada lawsuit against Niagara Action for Animals does
not specify exactly why Marineland is challenging the Wilson
paraphrasing but not the Zoocheck Canada version, the basis for the
claim of libel may be a contention that Wilson did not adequately
distinguish between the facts cited by Zoocheck Canada and opinions
or inferences that he incorporated into his summary.
Holer has at least twice been taken to court by animal
advocates, but was acquitted both times. In 1991 the Lincoln County
Humane Society charged Holer with cruelty in connection with the
death of a newborn fallow deer. Holer was acquitted by Ontario
provincial court judge Donald Wallace in June 1992. In 1996 Holer
was charged with careless driving after allegedly striking Zoocheck
Canada director Holly Penfound with his truck as she leafleted
outside Marineland of Canada. Penfound was transported to a hospital
by ambulance with injuries described by police as “very minor.”
Holer was acquitted of the careless driving charge in July 1997.
Holer lost a round in 1998, when the Ontario Natural
Resources Ministry removed two orphaned bear cubs from Marineland of
Canada in settlement of a lawsuit brought by Zoocheck Canada, the
Animal Alliance of Canada, and the Bear Alliance.
“So far our statement of defence has been filed and we have
requested a dismissal of the action against us,” Wilson told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “as we feel there is no case. We committed no libel, and
since the auto dealership went to Marineland anyway, there was no
economic loss. All statements made were ‘true in substance and fact,
[and were] ‘pleas of fair comment and justification.’ Our legal team
[in response] has asserted that ‘Marineland has not brought this
action for the purpose of recovering any damages. Marineland has
brought this action for the purpose of intimidating the defendants
and silencing public discussion and debate upon matters of public
interest,'” Wilson added.
“Our lawyer has generously given us a substantially reduced
rate,” Wilson said. “Nevertheless, even with the discount, we owe
almost $14,000 in services thus far.”
[Contact Niagara Action for Animals c/o P.O. Box 29002, 125
Carlton St., St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada L2R 7P9;