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Police investigating complaints that Marineland violated criminal code with whale and dolphin shows

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An Ontario police department says it is investigating two complaints against Marineland of Canada over how the facility uses animals in public appearances.

Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) tells CP24 the complaints were filed by members of the public in the fall.

"An investigation has been commenced and is being conducted by detectives of our 2 District Niagara Falls detective office. As the investigation remains ongoing it would not be appropriate to provide further investigative details and potentially jeopardize the investigation,” NRPS spokesperson Cst. Phil Gavin said.

Dolphins are shown performing in a display hosted by Marineland of Canada (Courtesy of Last Chance for Animals)

One complaint was made by a lawyer representing Last Chance for Animals (LCA), a U.S-based animal advocacy organization.

Miranda Desa tells CP24, “LCA filed the complaint based on concerns that Marineland may be in violation of section 445.2(4) of the Criminal Code, the cruelty to animal provisions about the use of captive whales and dolphins in shows for entertainment purposes.”

The criminal code provision prohibits captive marine mammals from being used for performance or entertainment purposes unless a license has been authorized by the provincial government.

CTV News Toronto has reached out to the provincial government and various ministries for information on any applicable licenses that may have been granted to Marineland.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General told CTV News Toronto that the Ministry “has not issued a licence to Marineland that would permit the use of captive cetaceans for performance for entertainment purposes.”

Marineland has not returned a request for comment on what licenses they hold, but on its website says: “Our marine mammals are empowered to decide on their own whether they want to participate in each presentation, and our plans change based on which animals choose to before each show.”

Their website currently states that presentations involving dolphins, whales and sea lions are intended to be "entertaining, educational and heartwarming."

Desa says that is inconsistent with what their group observed.

One of LCA’s Canadian members, who the group refers to as a ‘licensed private investigator,’ attended Marineland shows on August 3rd and 16th. The member claims dolphins and belugas were made to perform to the public, displaying behaviours not found naturally in the wild.

Desa says photos and videos were turned over to Niagara Regional Police.

"Last Chance for Animals obtained footage of dolphins doing flips, spinning, as well as having what they called a ‘dolphin dance party,’" she said.

"[Belugas] were being fed on the side of the pool in front of on-watchers, and the belugas were being asked to perform tricks, things for food. You can see the people working for Marineland giving instructions and rewarding the behaviour with food.”

The police investigation comes amid calls from animal rights groups for greater transparency about the health of marine animals at the park.

A separate investigation by The Animal Welfare Services (AWS) department at the Ministry of the Solicitor General is also ongoing.

In July, the Canadian Press reported that AWS inspectors had found that all marine mammals at the tourist attraction were “in distress” due to poor water quality.

Two months earlier, AWS inspectors issued orders to Marineland to repair the water system.

On May 18, Marineland appealed those orders and denied that the animals were in distress, noting that “an unknown number of whale deaths at the park were not related to the water issues.”

Dolphins at a Marineland of Canada show (Courtesy of Last Chance for Animals)

Desa tells CP24 that she filed her complaint with police in late September. The LCA member who attended the shows followed-up with a second police complaint one month later.

“I don’t feel like doing tricks and doing dances for the public is an exemption, I believe it is a violation of the criminal code,” they told CP24.

“How is a dolphin dance party part of an educational program?”

The LCA member says when they saw the mammals ‘performing,’ they were disappointed, but not surprised.

“We’re concerned that they’re violating the criminal code-but we don't know if they have a permit.”

CTV News Toronto has reached out to Marineland for further comment but has yet to receive a response.

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