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Marineland Gets a Pass from Zoo Group

In the wake of shocking revelations about the care of the animals at Marineland, Niagara Falls, the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) has given the marine zoo a passing grade in the first in what it says will be regular “unannounced” visits. But CAZA’s report says more about its own agenda than it does about the conditions at Marineland. [readon]

According to the report:

All of the water was clear and clean … None of the animals in the water appeared to be experiencing any discomfort … All of the animals in question were inspected and appeared to be in good health with no sign of eye or skin problems. Two of the older sea lions were receiving pain medications to address long-standing eye issues that had been identified as primarily age related.

This is hardly a glowing report. The only reason the water was “clear and clean” is that soon after senior trainer Phil Demers went public with serious allegations about the quality of the water, Marineland finally gave in and changed all the water throughout its facility.

CAZA is a trade association for zoos and aquariums, and is fully supported by the same zoos that receive their accreditation from the association. Only after the conditions at Marineland were revealed in an investigation by the Toronto Sun did CAZA do anything at all to fulfill its self-appointed watchdog mission. And it has told Marineland that it will be conducting “unannounced” visits every four to six weeks.

This latest inspection concludes that the animals are not in bad health, but says nothing about their mental or emotional condition. For example, the CAZA officials observed Kiska, Marineland’s only killer whale, who had been seen bleeding regularly from her tail, and reported that “at the time of the inspection there was no sign of bleeding or injury … There is no cause for concern … regarding the health of the animal at this time.”

Except that there is, indeed, great cause for concern. Killer whales are highly social animals who live in large family groups in the ocean. The fact that Kiska, who regularly self-mutilates by banging her tail against the side of her tank, was not actually bleeding on the day of the inspection, means little or nothing. She is kept in solitary confinement, total isolation, and the trainers who came forward and blew the whistle on Marineland have said that it’s perfectly obvious to any observer that she is suffering mentally and emotionally and will continue to do damage to herself.

CAZA may have given its client zoo, Marineland, a clean bill of health. But until CAZA recuses itself as being an entirely inappropriate watchdog, we can only give its “unannounced” inspections a glaring red light.