Volunteers took a chilling dive over the weekend at Toronto’s Woodbine Beach to raise money for Marineland whistleblowers.
The Polar Plunge was hosted by Ontario Captive Animal Watch (OCAW), a non-profit organization that aims to bring public awareness and investigates the treatment towards animals in captivity.
Marineland, the Niagara Falls tourist park that features aquamarine animals from sea lions to killer whales, has been in hot water for the past couple of years since 15 of its former employees came forward publicly with allegations of the park’s poor treatment towards its animals. Marineland has sued at least three of its whistleblowers for more than $1 million, according to OCAW.
Carly Ferguson is the co-founder of OCAW and a first-year Durham College student in the paralegal program. She participated in the plunge and says the lawsuits have been financially “crippling” on the whistleblowers.
“The main goal is to get Marineland on that stand,” says Ferguson. She says that Marineland is holding off on providing crucial documents regarding information on the animals under its care and says the information is important for the Marineland whistleblowers’ defence.
According to Ferguson, participants raised a generous amount in donations. She says 30 people participated in the plunge.
Linda Gunn was one of them.
Gunn arrived at the event with sweat pants and a sweatshirt, but got down to her bathing suit to take the plunge. Gunn says she considered the chilling dip to be the boldest action she has taken for an animal cause.
“I would do it again. I thought it was going to be worse to tell you the truth,” says Gunn.
Gunn says she rescues and fosters dogs from home. She says she got involved in OCAW when she heard the allegations made by Marineland whistleblowers.
“I am fighting for animals and all animal causes. Anything they do I’ll be here to support them,” says Gunn.
Phil Demers spent 12 years working for Marineland as a mammal trainer; he is a former employee and a Marineland whistleblower.
Demers says the park water was contaminated to the point that it turned green and the animals were showing visible signs of suffering and blindness. He says the conditions of the water at Marineland were harmful to the animals and employees, and he and many staff members filed several complaints to management about his concerns before he quit in 2012.
Demers began speaking out against Marineland publicly in 2012. Although some of his colleagues already came forward with allegations against the park, Demers says he felt hesitant at first.
“I was not going to feel good about myself if I went silent,” he says.
Demers is being sued $1.5 million by the Niagara Falls tourist park that claims he was trespassing on the park’s property, and allegedly scheming to steal a walrus, allegations Demers has denied.
He says his court date will likely be scheduled for February 4, but Demers says often the dates keep getting postponed at the request of Marineland lawyers.
“Anytime we have a date scheduled it becomes adjourned. Historically it’s been like that,” says Demers.
Demers attended the Polar Plunge saying that the initiative taken on by the volunteers is “fantastic”. He says the event and participation from the volunteers demonstrates a strong symbolism of what life is like for the captive animals.
“They subjected themselves to something uncomfortable and unlike the animals at Marineland, they were able to escape out of their own free will,” says Demers.