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BEYOND LOCAL: Marineland registers to lobby Ontario government with goal of selling

The park has been the subject of several investigations in recent years
Patrons try a ride at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., Monday, August 14, 2017. Marineland has registered to lobby the province with the goal of selling the park. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

TORONTO — Marineland has registered to lobby the Ontario government with the goal of selling the park.

Andrew Burns, a lawyer who has represented the Niagara Falls, Ont., tourist attraction for years, filed an application with the province's lobbyist registry on Jan. 10 to seek to influence the Office of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport as well as other provincial legislators.

In a section describing lobbying goals, Burns wrote "sale of Marineland of Canada Inc."

"Potential zoning changes to the property to permit development," Burns wrote. "Potential financial support and tax relief for park development of its operations. Potential requests for relief from taxation in connection with economic development of the tourism development proposal."

Marineland and Burns did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Tourism Minister Neil Lumsden said the government has not been in contact with the park.

"The minister and our office have never met with or had discussions with Marineland," Alan Sakach said in a statement Monday.

John Holer opened Marineland – then known as Marine Wonderland and Animal Farm – in 1961 and expanded it over the years. Marineland sits on about 1,000 acres, with about half of it developed, close to the falls.

His wife, Marie Holer, took over Marineland when he died in 2018.

The park has been the subject of several investigations in recent years.

Last month, Crown prosecution stayed an animal cruelty charge against Marineland. Niagara Regional Police had charged the park in December 2021 for allegedly using dolphins and whales for entertainment under a new law passed by the federal government in 2019 that banned whale captivity.

Marineland denied the charge at the time, saying it provides education, not entertainment. 

Marineland was grandfathered into the anti-captivity law, but had to comply with the country's whale breeding ban. Importing and exporting whales, dolphins and porpoiseswas also banned with exceptions for scientific research or "if it is in the best interest" of the animal.

In September, the park settled a decade-long legal battle with former trainer, Phil Demers, who had become an outspoken critic of the park.

As part of the agreement, Marineland said it would move its two remaining walruses, Smooshi, and her baby, Koyuk, to an undisclosed marine park where they could live with other walruses.

The two are supposed to move by March 21 as part of the deal between Marineland and Demers.

In May 2021, Marineland sold and moved five belugas for an undisclosed price to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. 

One whale, Havok, died within months of the move and a second, Havana, died in February 2022.

The U.S. government launched an investigation to understand the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Also in May 2021, Ontario's Animal Welfare Services found all marine mammals at Marineland in distress due to poor water quality. Marineland, in court documents, denied its animals were in distress.

The province has been inspecting Marineland's water since 2021.

That inspection remains ongoing, a spokesman for the solicitor general said Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2023. 

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press