RICHARD HUTTON/Niagara This Week
NIAGARA FALLS – The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation committee has stopped short of giving Marineland a clean bill of health.
A report on findings from an inspection at the Niagara Falls theme park was released Wednesday afternoon. While inspectors who were at the Portage Road park found water quality and staffing to be adequate the day of the August 23 inspection, an inspection of water quality logs did find problems that CAZA wants addressed.
“Detailed examination of water quality logs and animal health records as well as interviews with some ex-employees, however, raise questions about how effectively the water quality systems in the three pools (stadium, arena and sea lion) are working,” the report said.
CAZA conducted the inspection after a Toronto Star investigation raised allegations of poor living conditions for the park’s whales, dolphins, walruses and sea lions. In the Star report, eight former employees alleged the animals were experiencing an array of health issues including skin problems, fur loss, impaired vision and blindness as a result of what they claimed to be poor water quality at the park’s aquatic facilities. Furthermore, allegations were also raised concerning the welfare of land animals.
The CAZA report made note of concerns over chlorine and ozone levels at the park’s facilities.
“While the water quality issues appeared in some instances to impact on the wellbeing of the animals in the pool in question, there was no evidence of animal abuse and the animals affected were under veterinary care and treatment.
The report made no specific mention of the condition of land animals but in a telephone interview, CAZA National Director Bill Peters said the inspection covered all areas at the park.
“Specifically, conditions in the deer park and the bear area were said to be adequate,” Peters said.
As a result of the inspection, CAZA’s accreditation commission and Marineland have agreed the park “will undertake an independent, external inspection of its water quality management systems for the pools in question.”
That inspection, the report said, will be based on Marineland updating its water quality management protocols “as soon as reasonably possible.”
CAZA is also to be consulted regarding the qualifications of evaluators.
Peter’s meanwhile, said inaction on the part of Marineland could eventually result in a loss of accreditation by CAZA.
“But there are several steps along the way,” Peters said, indicating that further directives would be issued by the agency before accreditation is withdrawn.
The CAZA decision was cited as a “small positive” by one of Marineland’s most vocal critics.
“This is abnormal for CAZA” said Dylan Powell, a spokesman for Marineland Animal Defense (MAD), a Niagara Falls-based animal rights group which has staged many protests at park entrances and in front of the home of its owner, John Holer. “It’s a good step.”
Powell said that the makeup of CAZA — the group’s board of directors is made up of industry executives and Holer was once a member — doesn’t bode well for independence, he said, which makes the group’s findings concerning Marineland a surprise.
In a statement issued by Ann Marie Rondinelli of the park’s marketing department, she said Marineland “welcomed and has been fully supportive of CAZA’s investigation.”
She said issues raised in the media were “very difficult and personally upsetting for many of us at Marineland and for the public, our primary concern continues to be providing a safe and healthy environment for our animals and a welcoming one for our guests.”
No further comment will be issued by the park, she said, until the OSPCA has concluded its investigation.
MAD, meanwhile, will be back at Marineland from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7, the park’s final day of operations for the 2012 season. The group will be joined by Richard O’Barry, director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project and star of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove, a controversial film which raises questions about Japan’s dolphin hunting methods.
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