Former trainer blasts conditions at Marineland

Phil Demers with Smooshi.

Phil Demers with Smooshi.

Dan Dakin, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 PM ET

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- Leaving Marineland broke Phil Demers' heart. But he had to do it.

The 34-year-old animal trainer left the amusement park after 12 years, and has gone public with allegations of deplorable water conditions and mistreatment of animals by his former employer.

Demers said he made the decision to leave in May and then go public because the park's owner, John Holer, wasn't making changes he thought were necessary.

"All of my efforts in-house proved futile," Demers said Wednesday. "I could yell and scream, but at the end of the day, I didn't get the support that I hoped I'd get from management to correct what was a really bad problem."

The biggest issue, he said, was poor water quality that was making the marine animals, such as sea lions, whales, walruses and seals, sick.

Demers said when he quit his job as trainer on May 4, he used his exit interview with Holer to try to get a message through to him that the water needed to be dealt with.

"I thought the only chance I had to save the animals was to make a stink when I left," he said. "So I slammed my fist, and everything else, and he finally dumped the water."

Marineland typically doesn't respond to criticism or protests, and Holer wouldn't comment personally Wednesday, but park officials allowed Nic Hayne, the supervisor of marine mammal training, and director of veterinarian services June Mergl to address the allegations.

Both said all of the park's animals are well taken care of.

"The care and condition of our animals is our utmost priority," Hayne said. "Any change in their condition is immediately responded to by the training staff, veterinarians, and dealt with in a prompt and efficient manner.

"We're proud of our record and we constantly strive to provide the best care for these guys."

Demers said he's not entirely against amusement parks with animals on display but said there needs to be more regulation in place.

"I'd like to see a really powerful Big Brother over (Holer's) shoulders so he can still continue to be a successful operation but that he allocates his money where it needs to go and that he helps the animals to make certain they stay healthy." Demers said.

Mergl defended the park, saying many of the animals Demers talked about were simply suffering from the effects of old age.

"They were some of our elderly sea lions and seals, and they have conditions that are extremely common in aquariums and zoos across the world," Mergl said. "We're not immune to those situations. But because we have a full-time staff that assist me, they're dealt with and taken care of and we make sure they have no pain and are treated immediately."

Hayne agreed, and said the water in the park is clean.

"Our water-quality people monitor it three times a day, and those numbers are looked at and reported to upper management," he said. "Some of our treatment systems exceed other oceanariums around the world."

In addition to sea mammals, Marineland also has deer and bears on display.

Demers, who hasn't worked since leaving Marineland, said he's concerned about Holer suing him for his comments but said he felt it was necessary.

"He's going to destroy me, but who else is going to do it? It's destiny and it was put on my shoulders," Demers said. "He can take every penny I have. I don't care. Those are my animals. They're all of our animals. Anyone in my position should do this."

dan.dakin@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @dandakinreview


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