Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday December 23, 2021
Not everyone still loves Marineland
Tourism in Ontario’s Niagara region, like all regions, is constantly evolving.
Where once it was centred on Niagara Falls, now it stretches all along the lakefronts, down the canal, into the wineries and across the greenspaces and bicycle and hiking trails from one end of the region to the other.
It’s modern, and for all the money it takes in, a lot gets reinvested in order to stay up to date.
And then there is Marineland.
It’s an anachronism, like some spectre from long ago that looms over the rest of Niagara reminding us of what used to pass for entertainment back in the bad old days.
Specifically, we’re talking about its continued reliance on animals to fill the role that thrill rides and other adventures do at more modernized amusement parks.
Now, Marineland has been charged under the Criminal Code with one count of using a captive cetacean for performance for entertainment purposes without authorization.
Marineland has denied the allegation, blaming “ideologically driven activists” and saying its exhibit educates park visitors to provide “a foundation in understanding of these important marine species.”
The courts will decide which side is right; no evidence has been presented yet and there is no trial date.
And anyone who has been to Marineland sometime in the past 25 years can make up their own minds based on their experience. It hasn’t changed much.
But change is long overdue at the park with possibly the most recognizable jingle in Canada: “Everyone loves Marineland!”
And at one time, most people who went there did love it.
Year after year, millions of people trooped through its gates to ride the rides, feed the bears and watch the water shows.
It was the jewel of Niagara’s tourism industry, back in the day, and a lot of locals earned their living because Marineland brought the tourists here.
But times have changed and so have people’s opinions on what’s entertainment.
Beluga whales and penguins aren’t native to Ontario, obviously, nor are tanks and confined areas any sort of natural habitat for them.
Bison and deer kept in pens? A group of bears living in a man-made “natural” setting with park guests looking down at them from above, like the audience at some wrestling show?
One person’s “education” is another’s “exploitation.”
The world has changed, and Ontario’s tourism sector has changed as well, but Marineland has barely budged over the decades.
And what about Kiska, the park’s lone killer whale described on the Marineland website as “our friendly ocean giant.”
Others, who don’t agree with Marineland’s vision, call Kiska something else: “The world’s loneliest orca.”
By sticking to its outdated program while the world moved ahead, Marineland boxed itself — and Kiska — into a quandary.
Laws changed, and now it is illegal in Ontario to buy or sell orcas. And releasing Kiska into the wild, now, would likely be traumatic for her.
So whether it is educational or heartbreaking to watch Kiska swim alone — take your pick — that’s how she will stay.
Marineland is correct in wanting to educate people on animal conservation.
These days, though, there are many ways to learn about sea creatures and land animals without having to watch them go about their days living in unnaturally confined spaces.
Marineland’s hands may be bound when it comes to poor Kiska the killer whale, but there is nothing tying the park to its old, outdated ways.
Through current ownership, or if a long-rumoured sale actually finally happens, the park needs to drastically rethink its vision.
Times change, but Marineland hasn’t. And time will pass it by. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)