PETER CONRADI and JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
NIAGARA FALLS – Excavation of mass animal graves discovered at Marineland will begin today under the supervision of Ministry of the Environment inspectors, whose job it will be to determine whether the burial sites pose a hazard.
The inspection comes as a result of questions posed by the Toronto Star to MOE officials earlier this month based on claims made by former park employees, who say there are four mass graves located on the property of the popular Niagara Falls theme park.
Two of the burial pits are said to contain the remains of more than 1,000 animals, such as whales, dolphins, bears and deer.
In a statement issued to Bullet News, Ministry of the Environment spokeswoman Kate Jordan said inspectors were able to confirm some of the information contained in the Toronto Star report during a site visit Thursday.
“Today, ministry staff interviewed company officials at Marineland and conducted an inspection which confirmed the presence of dead animals buried where they had been reported,” said Jordan, adding “Marineland officials are cooperating with the ministry.”
Jordan continued: “The company will be excavating test pits around the burial site so that ministry staff can determine groundwater movement in the area and soil conditions.
“The ministry will also be taking water samples from the Welland River.
“This work is being undertaken to make sure that any activities related to the disposal of dead animals at Marineland are not having adverse impacts to the surrounding environment. The results of this work will be made public.”
Marineland officials say they are cooperating with the inspections.
Spokeswoman Ann Marie Rondinelli issued the following statement to Bullet News in response to questions posed about Thursday’s inspection:
“This morning Marineland was visited by an inspector from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment looking for information on animal interment at our park. He was welcomed and our staff fully cooperated with his requests. He viewed the site where we have sadly, had to bury old and sick animals who have died here through the years. Another team will arrive (Thursday). They, too, will be welcomed here. We expect that their inspection will be completed quickly.”
“It is a sad truth that animals in zoos and aquariums die at the end of their lifespans. We have always treated our animals with love and respect both in life and death and we do the same with their remains. We have always paid the strictest attention to the law in how they are buried.”
Environment Minister Jim Bradley told Bullet News he first learned of the issue Thursday morning through the media.
Bradley said the ministry’s inspectors and investigators do not report to political bosses, so it’s no surprise to him that he didn’t know.
“They do it of their own volition if they receive a complaint,” said Bradley, the MPP from St. Catharines. “They are similar to the police in that they are not directed by the minister or the government.”
Niagara Falls city clerk Dean Iorfida said Thursday he does not recall any complaints lodged with the city about burial of dead animals onsite at Marineland during his time in charge of municipal bylaw services.
Iorfida said he believes regulation of “deadstock” disposal falls under the provincial jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Niagara Falls city Coun. Janice Wing said she herself had raised questions about the alleged burial of animals on the Marineland property earlier this fall after being contacted by a number of constituents, but had not received any definitive answers.
“I did my best,” Wing told Bullet News, Thursday morning.