Who is Smooshi?
Smooshi is a captive walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), stolen from the waters of the Black Sea, who has gained a lot of attention because of her special relationship with former Marineland trainer Phil Demers.
The unique relationship between Smooshi and Demers was forged when Demers attempted to calm her during an intense medical procedure. In an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast #425, he describes the moment that the two became linked: "I put my hands in front of her face like this..." [he motions and forms a gentle cup-like arrangement with his hands] "...she opened up her nostrils, I remember this vividly...she took a deep breath and she started to follow me after that..."
At that moment, unbeknownst to Demers, the two became inextricably linked. It's impossible to deny the claim of this connection as seen in this video, where Demers is hiding behind a building and Smooshi is calling for him. As soon as she sees him come out from behind the building, she hurries towards him in excitement, as a dog would to its guardian, or child would to its parent.
Smooshi is no longer performing in shows and is believed to be living in a warehouse at Marineland.
Who is Phil Demers?
Phil Demers was employed at Marineland Canada where his relationship with Smooshi received a lot of media attention, but five years later after 12 years of employment, Demers left Marineland and his beloved Smooshi because he could no longer accept the way that the animals were being treated. In this video from The Star, Demers reveals more about his decision to leave Marineland Canada and talks about Baker, the sea lion. (Sadly, Baker died in 2013.)
He is one of 15 whistleblowers that have come forward.
Demers has brought a lot of attention to Marineland, and Marineland has brought a lot of attention to Demers. In 2012 he was SLAPPed with a $1.5 million suit lawsuit accusing him trespassing and of plotting to steal Smooshi. Demers denies any such plot as well as trespassing, stating that he stayed outside in front of the park during a Save Smooshi protest.
Marineland is suing him and two other former employees.
The Toronto Star
The Star began its investigation into Marineland in 2012. In a series of scathing articles, the story behind the scenes at Marineland began to unfold. Protests were held, there was involvement from the OSPCA, the government, and now there are measures being put into place to create a better standard of living for captive animals in Canada.
The Star is also facing legal action from Marineland.
One of the major concerns for the animals brought forth via The Star investigation was the condition of the water at Marineland. In various articles and interviews, the water has been described as "caustic", causing blindness to the animals (as well as pain and suffering), causing harm to the staff, and even causing Smooshi to have chemical burns. According to a source of The Star's, "Six of the park's seven seals are blind, have impaired vision or have had serious eye problems because of exposure to unhealthy water..." The issue, it has been alleged, was due to filtration problems and ozone leaks. Ozone exposure is extremely hazardous to human and nonhuman animal health.
The Star was able to acquire a log from a former employee that details the water problems and provides a timeline. The log ends abruptly because the employee decided that the lack of action was too much and they didn't return to work again.
According to various online sources, even SeaWorld thought the environment at Marineland was lacking and took back Ike (Ikaika), an orca on loan for mating purposes (read more at The Orca Project). And recently a mother convinced her son's school not to visit Marineland for a class trip.
Journalist Abby Martin's interview with Demers (here) is the most cohesive and recent interview (that I could find). The interview starts at minute 2:06.
In a 2012 blog for The Huffington Post Canada Demers wrote candidly about his decision to leave Marineland and Smooshi. In his closing paragraph made a heartfelt plea for Smooshi:
[Smooshi's] health concerns me, and the quality of her life is greatly negotiated in my absence. She needs me as much as I need her. Her vulnerability humbles me, and she makes me a better human being. She has offered me so many amazing experiences and opportunities, and I value her life as I do the lives of my very own family.
This story needs attention, please share it. Visit SaveSmooshi.Org to find out what you can do to help Smooshi and the other captive animals.
Animals do not belong in captivity and certainly not for entertainment. Captivity kills -- it's time to empty the tanks.