The Last Walrus

A filmmaker explores one man’s quest to save a walrus, as the debate around marine mammal captivity evolves in Canada
Photo credit: Sebastian Furtado
Available on CBC Gem

The Last Walrus

Nature of Things

In The Last Walrus, filmmaker Nathalie Bibeau explores an impassioned debate about how — and whether — to hold marine mammals in human care. With trusted access to opposing perspectives, Bibeau returns to her hometown near Niagara Falls, Ont., and to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, to investigate some of the biggest controversies surrounding animal captivity in Canada.

Killer whale kisses and walrus waves were once iconic childhood experiences. Marine parks and zoos have long captured the imagination of animal lovers who were keen to see exotic creatures up close. But there’s been a shift in public opinion on the captivity of marine mammals. Hard questions are being asked about how these animals are captured, kept and displayed — and to what end.

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The Walrus and the Whistleblower

Featuring scientists, ex-trainers, ethicists, activists and politicians, Bibeau puts the animal at the centre of her narrative. Her documentary reflects on legacy organizations in Canada at the centre of the debate: the Vancouver Aquarium — a leader in conservation research and the first home to a captive killer whale in the world — and Marineland, a tourist staple in Niagara Falls, known for its catchy jingle “Everyone loves Marineland.”

Like countless other children, Bibeau grew up going to parks such as Marineland. But in 2012, she witnessed a childhood acquaintance and former trainer at the park make allegations of animal cruelty in a Toronto Star exposé. He left his dream job, told his story to the media and launched a public campaign to save what is now Marineland’s last remaining adult walrus, galvanizing a community and raising larger questions on captivity as a whole. This documentary was born of those questions.

Featuring rare archival images and compelling footage of walruses in the wild and under human care, The Last Walrus broaches an uncomfortable conversation about our relationship with animals. Whether marine mammals are held in pools for entertainment, education or conservation, this documentary — a love story at its heart — asks a fundamental question: is it time we think of it from the animal’s perspective?