If you’re like me and an American who hasn’t gone to a SeaWorld since 2002, then you probably haven’t heard of Marineland, which is a controversial amusement park in Niagara Falls, Canada that has been the subject of accusations of unfair animal treatment.
It came under fire this week after a former employee posted a video that appeared to show one of the park’s walruses in an emaciated state.
Phillip Demers posted a video to his YouTube page on Monday of Zeus, a 13-year-old walrus, shuffling around on a stage in front of an audience. He moves slowly before he lies down in the water.
“As you can see, Zeus is very emaciated. His skin drapes his bones. No muscle tone. No blubber or fat visible. His air sac below his neck, protruding. His belly, virtually nonexistent. His lack of energy and attention...Zeus is very sick,” Demers wrote.
On Thursday, Marineland seemed to counter this argument by posting a video of its own, showing Zeus swimming around a pool eating fish. The video claims to have been filmed on Aug. 17.
The park isn’t happy about the claims, reaching out to a number of publications to state that all the park’s walruses get regular checkups from the “onsite medical care team” and are seen by independent veterinarians. It also stated that the video is a gross misrepresentation of Zeus, likening it to tabloid photos of celebrities.
“As you have probably seen from many of the tabloid magazines, you see in grocery store lineups, anyone can take an unflattering photo of someone to make them look unwell or unhappy,” the park noted in a statement to The Dodo, an animal welfare website.
As for the animal’s weight, Marineland has an explanation. Demers told The Dodo that while adult walruses usually weigh in at around 3,000 pounds, Zeus looked to be less than 1,000. According to Marineland, a weight drop is normal for walruses. As stated on its Facebook page:
“Our marine mammal care team confirms all of our walruses drop weight in the summer, as they no longer need their winter weight. As he has done in past years, he will put on weight as we head into the colder months. On land, walruses appear to be sluggish and slow when moving, but this is due to their size, not their fitness. Zeus prefers to eat in the water.”
Demers and Marineland have a tumultuous history. Demers worked at the park for 12 years before he quit in 2012. According to an interview in The Daily Beast, he said he couldn’t stand to witness the suffering of the animals in the park’s care.
“I realized I was no longer part of the solution. I was part of the problem,” Demers told the Toronto Star. “I can’t train animals that are sick and compromised.”
He’s been an outspoken critic of the park ever since, starting a petition that calls on the government to pass stricter animal care laws (at the time of this writing, it has over 138,000 signatures). He was banned from the park after he quit and was hit with a $1.5 million lawsuit from Marineland, which claimed that he tried to “personally profit” off of one of the other walruses, named Smooshi.
John Holer, the owner of the park, even accused Demers of plotting to kidnap Smooshi. He was in court defending himself on Thursday, according to Motherboard.
This isn’t the first time that Marineland has come under fire. The Toronto Star has been investigating the park and documenting the treatment of ailing animals, which have caused protests.
Marineland isn’t the first marine life park to be criticized in the media for animal abuse. At this point, most people have seen the documentary Blackfish, which documents the treatment of the orca Tilikum at SeaWorld and the controversy surrounding the death of a trainer. In response, the park announced that it would be ending its orca breeding program (no word yet on breeding programs regarding other creatures kept in captivity).