9 min read

Young Whale Dies After Wasting Away At Controversial Marine Park

“Marineland tried to hide it. They won’t announce whale deaths unless we bust them in the act.”

Gia, a young beluga whale, was only 3 years old when she died in a small concrete pool. But her death, according to animal welfare advocates, could have easily been avoided.

Gia was born at Marineland, a highly controversial marine park in Ontario, Canada, that’s been accused numerous times of animal cruelty, and has earned a general reputation for allegedly mistreating both the marine and land animals in its care.

Shortly after Gia’s birth, park workers separated her from her mother. While Marineland claims this was necessary because Gia’s mother stopped nursing her, Hayden Hunter, director of investigations for Last Chance for Animals (LCA), an organization that investigated Marineland in 2015 and 2016, told The Dodo that this information is false.

Beluga whale in tank
Gia bumping her head against the gate in her tank in 2015 | Last Chance For Animals

“Contrary to what Marineland’s statement reveals, her mother didn’t actually stop nursing her,” Hunter said. “Gia was removed from the pod and placed into another pool with two other whales. She was weaned by choice of the Marineland staff.”

This didn’t do Gia any favors, according to Hunter, who says the young beluga became extremely emaciated and sickly.

“For some reason, Marineland doesn’t seem to notice that when a calf’s ribs are showing, and their backbone is showing … it means that they’re ill, and they refuse to agree that this is an issue,” Hayden said. “She hasn’t been healthy for the last three years of her life — the only three years of her life.”

Emaciated beluga whale in tank
Gia looking extremely emaciated in 2015 | Last Chance For Animals

Marineland announced Gia’s death yesterday via an online statement, although Phil Demers, a former Marineland trainer who now campaigns against the park, told The Dodo that she actually died nine days earlier on August 4.

“I know from sources — two independent ones,” Demers said. “Marineland tried to hide it. They won’t announce whale deaths unless we bust them in the act.”

Marineland, however, told The Dodo that they were simply waiting for the necropsy results to come in before announcing Gia's death.

"We all have an interest in understanding the cause of any animal’s death and that any explanation we give is accurate," a spokesperson for Marineland said. "It is, therefore, important to get necropsy results before making any announcement. In this case, as soon as preliminary results were received an announcement was made."

Beluga whale in concrete tank
Last Chance For Animals

In its press release, Marineland claims that Gia suffered from a “congenital torsion of her small intestine that caused it to twist and resulted in a full blockage of the intestine,” which ultimately led to her death.

Demers, however, finds this explanation difficult to believe.

“They use that one [explanation] all the time,” Demers said. “It’s a rare thing that animals die of. But somehow, at Marineland, it conveniently happens all the time. Marineland’s got two go-to [explanations]. They always say twisted intestines or acute meningitis.”

Hunter wasn’t sure how to respond to Marineland’s explanation of Gia’s death.

“Unless we can see the necropsy results, I don’t really have anything to say about that,” Hunter said.

Emaciated beluga whale in tank
Last Chance for Animals

Yet Hunter firmly believes that Marineland could have — and should have — done more to help Gia, as well as the rest of the animals in their care.

“She [Gia] didn't belong there in the first place — none of them do,” Hunter said. “The fact that they’re continuing to support their ideas and keep these animals there and not provide the best care that they can is appalling.”

Marineland, however, disagrees with LCA's position. 

"Last Chance for Animals filed a false complaint about Gia with the OSPCA that was fully investigated and resulted in no charges or orders being given," a Marineland spokesperson told The Dodo. "LCA has been proven to be wrong about their claims. What you've been told are lies based on falsehoods LCA raised money on, at Gia's expense."

Emaciated walrus in marine park
Zeus, the extremely emaciated walrus who appeared in a show last year | Phil Demers

This isn’t the first time Marineland’s animal care has come under fire. Last year, Zeus, one of Marineland’s walruses, appeared emaciated and nearly collapsed while performing in a show. In late 2016, the Ontario SPCA (OSPCA) filed five charges against the park for not providing adequate food, water or medical attention to their land animals.

Demers has also been concerned about Smooshi, a walrus who formed an unusual attachment to him while he worked at Marineland as a trainer. When Demers quit his job at Marineland, and was forbidden from ever seeing Smooshi again, the walrus’s health quickly diminished, and she almost died. Demers believes that Smooshi remains in a precarious state today, and she remains hidden behind the scenes at the park.

Yet the Canadian government recently decided to drop all charges against Marineland, arguing that it was not in the public’s best interest to pursue these charges — a decision that left many critics of the park disappointed and confused.

Sick walrus in cage
Smooshi, a young walrus who is kept behind the scenes at Marineland | Phil Demers

“We are extremely disappointed in this outcome,” the Ontario SPCA said in a statement at the time. “[We] feel that this matter is of public interest, as all animals rely on humans for appropriate care for their general welfare and the public demands this.”

Demers isn’t backing down, and he plans to take the Marineland owner to court himself.  

“I’m never giving up,” Demers said. “The lies are catching up with them.”

To help Demers take Marineland to court, you can make a donation to his legal fight.