'The Walrus and the Whistleblower' profiles 'walrus whisperer' battle with Marineland (2024)

TORONTO — Growing up near Niagara Falls, Ont., Nathalie Bibeau was well familiar with the splashy spectacle of its zoo and amusem*nt park Marineland. The director and producer from Welland, Ont.

TORONTO — Growing up near Niagara Falls, Ont., Nathalie Bibeau was well familiar with the splashy spectacle of its zoo and amusem*nt park Marineland.

The director and producer from Welland, Ont., has photos of herself with her family petting animals at the popular tourist attraction, known for its aquarium shows and catchy theme-song chorus, "Everyone loves Marineland."

Her younger brother's friend, Phil Demers, began working there as an animaltrainer in March 2000 and made international headlines for his strong bond with a walrus named Smooshi.

When Demers left about12 years later and became an outspoken critic of the company, Bibeauwanted to explore the complexities ofour relationship with animals.

The result is the new documentary "The Walrus and the Whistleblower," available on the CBC Gem streaming service after its debut on the public broadcaster last week. It's also in the now-running online version of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

"What attracted me the most about this story was the human story behind it," Bibeau said, "the characters inside of it, the emotional component of what it must be like to be in this kind of battle on all sides.

"Not just the activist side, but even inside Marineland — what does it feel like to have the paradigm shift on you? ... I wanted to pierce the veneer of this public debate in a way that was different and nuanced and really looks at the humanity behind it."

That debate is marine mammal captivity, which Demers hasbeen publicly opposed to since he left Marineland in 2012.

The film follows his activism and fame as a so-called "walrus whisperer," hisbattle to fight a lawsuit launched against him by Marineland,and his journey to gain "custody" of Smooshi. Demerssays litigation continues on the suit, which alleged that he trespassed on Marineland's property and schemed to steal Smooshi. Demers has denied the allegations.

The doc also looks at the history of Marineland, which was founded by the late John Holer nearly 60 years ago. He moved to Canada from Slovenia where he used to train circus animals.

In the film, Demers and several other former Marineland workersdescribe a family atmospherefor the most part, but saythey grew concerned about the welfare of some animals.

In a statement provided to The Canadian Press, Marineland said they have not seen the film, but they did visit its website and watched the trailer.

"Like all Canadians, Mr. Demers is entitled to express his opinions on whatever topics he chooses, even when those opinions may be inaccurate or unfair and despite the fact he resigned his employment at Marineland in 2012 and has not been in the park in 8.5 years," the company said.

"Regarding comments on any allegations levelled at Marineland in the documentary, we invite you to review your archives from 2012 and 2013 when they were originally shown to be false."

The2012/2013 time period was when Demers and other whistleblowers started levelling allegations of mistreatment of animals at Marineland.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did not lay charges at the time but issued several orders, which Marineland complied with.

Years laterMarineland was charged with 11 counts of animal cruelty following an investigation by the OSPCA, but all of them were dropped by the Crown in 2017.

In response, the theme park sued the OSPCA, alleging the organization targeted the theme park to boost fundraising and appease animal activists. In its statement of defence, the OSPCA denied Marineland's claims. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Marineland has always denied all allegations against the park.

The Montreal-based Bibeau started shooting the doc in 2018 and said she"tried very hard" to get a representative of Marineland on camera"to understand their own human story."

"I've written more than nine letters to Marineland over the last 18 months trying to get their participation in the film," said Bibeau, who added she didn't know Demers well or have a background in animal issues before this film.

"I didn't just want an interview; I actually wanted to get into a discussion with them about participation in a really meaningful way so that they could inform my own point of view as I was developing this story. But they never agreed."

The film comes amid similar debate raised by the popular Netflix series "Tiger King," which looks at big-cat conservationists and collectors in the United States.

Bibeau said she's only seen a few episodes of that series but, like her doc, feels it shows the complexities of the human-animal bond.

Bibeau pointed to a scientist shespoke with for a digital short film she's made to accompany "The Walrus and the Whistleblower" online.

"She said to me, 'At the end of the day, we all love animals,'" Bibeau said of the scientist, who works at an aquarium.

"People who work with animals — whether it is in a captivity setting, whether it's just somebody who has a cat or a dog, anyone who is involved in that world — wherever you stand on the captivity debate, her opinion was that we all love animals, we just have a different way of expressing it."

Bibeau said she thinksthe stars of "Tiger King" love tigers.

"They just express it differently than somebody on the opposite side would," she said. "That kind of questioning is really important.

"And it does reduce some of the polarization.... It was something I was trying to do in this film, is actually soften the edges of the battle a little bit and try to show that we actually have more things in common as humans than we have differences."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

'The Walrus and the Whistleblower' profiles 'walrus whisperer' battle with Marineland (2024)


What happened to the walrus at Marineland? ›

Smooshi the walrus and her calf, Koyuk, have left Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., for SeaWorld Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates, years after activists first raised concerns about their health and safety.

Who sued Marineland? ›

Five years earlier, in March 2013, Marineland had filed a lawsuit demanding C$1.5m (£906,586) from Demers, who had worked as an animal trainer at the park for 12 years. Demers had quit the previous year after getting fed up with the animal suffering he said he had witnessed.

Who was the former Marineland trainer? ›

Philip Demers (born March 21, 1978) is a Canadian former professional marine mammal trainer at Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Where can I watch The walrus and the Whistleblower? ›

The Walrus and the Whistleblower - Apple TV (CA)

Why was the famous walrus killed? ›

Frank Bakke-Jensen, the director general of fisheries, stated that the decision to euthanise Freya was based "on an overall assessment of the continued threat to human safety", saying also that "animal welfare was not being maintained".

Why is Marineland closing? ›

BREAKING: According to multiple sources, MarineLand employees are being laid-off and informed that the park will no longer operate. It appears that MarineLand Canada is no more. The speculation of closure comes shortly after MarineLand was found guilty of animal cruelty charges.

What was the last killer whale at Marineland? ›

Kiska, Marineland's last living orca, is seen at the amusem*nt park in 2012. Kiska, the last captive killer whale in Canada — also known as "the loneliest whale in the world" — has died, according to local media.

Who owns Marineland now? ›

Marineland of Canada
Opened1961; 63 years ago
OwnerJohn Holer (1961–2018) Holer Family Amusem*nts (2018–present)
SloganUnderwater Fantasy at Marineland!
Operating seasonMay–October
8 more rows

What animals does Marineland have left? ›

Despite this removal, there are still many animals held in captivity at Marineland, including dolphins, sea lions, penguins, beluga whales and Kiska, the so-called "loneliest Orca on earth." Black bears, bison, deer, elk, geese and ducks are also part of the facility's North American land mammal display.

Who is John Jett SeaWorld? ›

From 1992 to 1996, he was employed as a marine mammal trainer at SeaWorld of Florida, working mostly with killer whales. Since then, he has co-authored several papers on the issue of keeping killer whales in captivity.

Who was the trainer ripped apart by whales? ›

Tilikum turned on his SeaWorld trainer in the blink of an eye. Nobody expected Dawn Brancheau - one of SeaWorld's most experienced trainers - to be mauled to death by the killer whale she'd trained and loved.

Who was the former SeaWorld trainer in blackfish? ›

Bridgette Pirtle worked as an animal trainer at SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas from 2001 to 2011, and consulted on the film Blackfish.

Is Johnny Depp in the walrus movie? ›

Tusk is a blend of horror and comedy with a bizarre concept and a very intriguing cast, as the Tusk movie cast Johnny Depp in an uncredited role. Directed by Kevin Smith, the horror movie tells the story of a podcaster who finds himself in the hands of a deranged seafarer intent on transforming him into a walrus.

What Disney movie has the walrus in it? ›

Alice in Wonderland

Why was the walrus euthanized? ›

Despite multiple warnings issued by authorities, people refused to keep their distance, and the beloved walrus was euthanized due to public safety concerns.

Where is smooshi the walrus today? ›

Both Smooshi and Kayuk have since been shipped to a Sea World park in the Gulf - a brand new facility in Abu Dhabi, set to open its doors on 23 May. Now a letter carrier and animal rights campaigner, Mr Demers said he remains against the captivity of animals.

What happened to Wally the Walrus? ›

Wally was later spotted off the coast of Cornwall. From there he visited France and Spain before beginning the long journey west, stopping off on the Isle of Scilly. Seal Rescue Ireland has now revealed the walrus has finally been seen in Iceland after 22 days of no sightings.

Where has Thor the walrus gone? ›

The mammal was later observed returning to the sea in Scarborough and a walrus believed to be Thor was spotted in Iceland in February 2023.

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