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Two more belugas dead at Marineland, bringing total whale deaths to 17 since 2019

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Two more beluga whales have died at Marineland, bringing the total number of whale deaths since 2019 to 17.

Ontario's Animal Welfare Services has been investigating the Niagara Falls tourist attraction since 2020. 

"The ministry has been made aware that two beluga whales at Marineland have passed away this March," said Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the government body responsible for animal welfare.

The province did not say how the whales died.

In a statement, Marineland said "independent necropsies confirm the two belugas both died from torsion after valiant medical efforts to assist them." Torsion refers to an abnormal twisting of the stomach.

"All the whales are under constant weekly supervision and oversight by the government regulator and cared for daily by in-house vets and numerous external consultants," Marineland's statement said.

"The reality is that all animals eventually die from one cause or another whether in the wild or captivity."

Sixteen beluga whales and one killer whale have died at the park since 2019, The Canadian Press has learned through freedom-of-information requests and other sources.

One bottlenose dolphin, one harbour seal, one grey seal and two California sea lions have also died during that time, the province has said.

Three other belugas from Marineland have died at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. The most recent death there occurred in December. Marineland sold five belugas to the U.S. facility and they were moved in May 2021. Mystic said the two previous beluga deaths were due to pre-existing conditions they had coming from Marineland.

The U.S. government launched an investigation after the first two beluga deaths and the probe is ongoing. The Canadian federal government has previously said it is not investigating the move.

The same week the whales were moved, Ontario's Animal Welfare Services declared all marine mammals at Marineland in distress due to poor water quality. In court documents, Marineland denied its animals were in distress and denied water played a role in any whale death.

Marineland says on its website that it has a "strong record" of providing for the welfare of its animals and will "continue to prioritize their health and well-being."

There were 37 belugas at the park last summer when The Canadian Press visited Marineland.

Twelve of the beluga deaths occurred within a two-year window. Documents obtained through freedom-of-information laws show a beluga named Ikora dying on Oct. 24, 2019, followed by 10 others and a beluga named Bull dying on Nov. 23, 2021.

The province's four-year-long investigation of Marineland remains shrouded in mystery, with officials refusing to disclose details of its probe, what it is doing at the park and how the animals died.

Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said the province's Animal Welfare Services have inspected Marineland more than 200 times since 2020.

"I'm upset to hear anything like this," he said. "Our job as a government is to make sure that our laws are followed. And we have one of the strongest laws anywhere in the country."

Phil Demers, a former Marineland trainer turned outspoken critic of the park demanded accountability and transparency.

"Marineland continues to try to hide the severity of the situation their animals are enduring, but dead whales are difficult to hide," said Demers, co-founder of UrgentSeas.

"When will there be accountability? Where is the government?"

Marineland was recently found guilty under the province’s animal cruelty laws over its care of three young black bears. The park kept three bears in cramped quarters with little access to water and no climbing structures. Sentencing is set for August.

Marineland banned a Canadian Press reporter from its property last year. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

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