Protesters at Marineland hold 'memorial' for Kiska the killer whale on Niagara park's opening weekend

More than 100 protesters gathered outside the gates for opening day at aquatic theme park Marineland of Niagara Falls, Ont. on Saturday. They held a vigil for Kiska, Canada's last captive killer whale, who died at the park in March.

Signs honoured Kiska, the last killer whale in captivity in Canada, who died at the park in March

Protestors in front of Marineland.
Protesters stand outside Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Saturday, May 20. Animal activists are calling for the closure of the amusement park after Kiska, a 47-year-old orca whale, died earlier this year. (Alex Lupul/The Canadian Press)

There was a crowd outside Marineland on Saturday, but those holding signs and gathered out front weren't there to visit the theme park in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The 100 or so protesters standing at the roadside, as the park opened to visitors for the first time this season, were there to condemn Marineland for years of alleged animal abuse and remember Kiska, the last killer whale in captivity in Canada, who died there this past March. 

"#RIPKISKA" read one of the signs. 

In the years leading up to Kiska's death, animal rights activists advocated for the whale's release back into the wild.

The animal rights groups that organized the protest, Last Chance for Animals and @UrgentSeas, played footage of Kiska ramming her head against the glass of her tank on a banner van during the protest. 

Protestors in the rain.
Animal rights groups Last Chance for Animals and UrgentSea organized the protest. (The Canadian Press)

Jennifer Jamieson, an animal rights advocate from Stoney Creek, Ont., said Saturday's protest brought up a mix of emotions for her. 

"We're glad that [Kiska's] no longer suffering but we still have work to do," she said. 

From visitor to protester

Jamieson said before she began advocating for the animals in captivity at Marineland, she was a visitor. 

"I used to take my children there," she said. 

Jamieson said she used to run a home daycare centre and would take the children on trips to Marineland to learn about marine animals. It only took a few trips to the park, she said, to realize "there was nothing educational" about the park. 

"That is why I started advocating for the animals, because I actually went there as a visitor and I was disgusted with the surroundings and the habitats that these wild animals were living in." 

In 2014, Jamieson successfully petitioned her child's school to cancel a planned class trip to Marineland. The school changed the destination to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington instead.

Small white whales are seen swimming down below.
Beluga whales can be seen in this aerial image of Marineland, taken on May 19. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Marineland did not respond to CBC Hamilton's recent request for an interview.

Its website says trips to the park help teachers "bring science curriculum to life for your students in a memorable and exciting way."

When Marineland posted on Facebook this past week about the park's opening day, dozens of people commented saying they were planning to attend this year or enjoyed an aspect of the park, which also includes rides and at least one roller-coaster.

Jamieson said she doesn't believe in shaming people who still visit Marineland. 

"I'm all about educating and creating awareness," she said, adding that some visitors likely "don't know" about the park's alleged animal abuse. 

"I'm not comfortable with using the word shame, or shaming people for having gone there before, or being there the day [of the protest]."

'We're not going anywhere': former trainer

For some protesters, the goal is to see the animals removed from the park and rehomed to wildlife sanctuaries. 

Phil Demers, former Marineland trainer and co-founder of @UrgentSeas, said he thinks they are getting closer to that goal. 

"The protest was a very powerful expression of our resolve that we're not going anywhere until Marineland themselves resolves to part ways with any use of animals for entertainment or captivity and ultimately retire them to better lives," he said. 

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati told CBC Hamilton last week he also supports a move "away from animals."

Marineland front entrance.
Marineland opened for the season on May 20. The park is shown here May 19, a day before it opened. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Demers said Saturday's protest was largely shielded from visitors entering the park by the tarp-covered fences, but he said he looked into the parking lot several times throughout the day. 

"You could count 15 to 20 [vehicles] at most at any time and that was about it," he said. 

CBC Hamilton asked Marineland for the ticket sale numbers for its opening weekend, but has not yet received a response. 


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with Ontario's six local news markets: CBC Hamilton, CBC Windsor, CBC Sudbury, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, CBC Thunder Bay and CBC London. She covers all topics, but has a special interest in reporting on social issues and community events.