Building off of the first edition in this series, I wanted to put to paper a bit about the internal struggle that has been happening within the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). That paid member lobby is the accrediting body for captive animal facilities in Canada and works to ensure the industry stays self regulated and largely unaccountable to the public.
CAZA was started by owners at African Lion Safari and modelled after similar associations in the US and elsewhere. Marineland Canada has been a member since the early days and considered one of the “old boys” within an organization that is currently undergoing an internal power struggle between old/new, private/public, profit/non profit, research/entertainment lines.
Most people who follow this issue are aware of how much public pressure has been put on Marineland through investigative series and protest campaigns, but the battle being waged within CAZA is not something that many are aware of.
A main starting point over this 3 year period of 2011-2014 is the development and opening of the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. That facility brought in funding from every tier of Government and the Ripley’s brand itself is owned by Jim Pattison of the Jim Pattison Group, arguably the wealthiest individual in Canada. Marineland had announced plans for the shark exhibit as early as the mid-00’s, but nothing materialized and within this void Pattison stepped up and managed to get the Government to subsidize a facility that would not only cut in Marineland’s market share, but also to build a better exhibit of a development Marineland at least hoped to build.
One of the high points of public scrutiny for Marineland was tied to the opening of the Ripley’s Aquarium. PeTA staged some form of media protest, which was responded to by the park that they would not house marine mammals and that they shared concerns over noise levels for captive marine mammals (Marineland Canada both houses Marine Mammals and exposes them to loud noise).
Ripley’s has also followed this up with aggressive billboard campaigns – including recently a billboard just a couple km’s away from Marineland Canada. The goal for CAZA is to provide a united public front in order to deflect public scrutiny, however, these are also businesses all in competition with each other and Ripley’s Aquarium has actively sought to both distance itself from Marineland Canada and their practices while also actively trying to cut into its market share. Where Holer used to wield significant influence with CAZA, he now has a facility in his region with an owner that makes him look like a pauper and who has far more access to media, politicians and the business community. Even without investigative series or protest campaigns, the long term viability of Marineland Canada when in competition with a facility like the Ripley’s Aquarium is questionable and most likely only as viable as Jim Pattison would want it to be.
Another new blood group within CAZA are lower end reptile facilities that see their long term viability as unstable as reptile deaths bring with them media scrutiny and municipal by laws. Some from this group have publicly stated that they do not agree with Marineland’s operation, and privately have relayed this internal struggle. One highlight for me came from looking at demonstration photos and realizing that employees at one captive reptile CAZA facility actually stormed the gates at Marineland on Closing Day in October 2012 – proudly posting on Facebook that it was one of the greatest moments of their lives.
2014 brought another player into this discussion as opposition to the growth of the Vancouver Aquarium brought increased scrutiny that also focused on ties between that facility and Marineland. The Vancouver Aquarium, much like Ripley’s, market themselves as progressive based upon practices that they do not do/stopped doing that Marineland Canada continue with (No captive Orcas, rehabilitation/research focus, non profit, etc). Although the Vancouver Aquarium has played a role in deflecting criticism against Marineland; by working together to keep regulations low and self-enforced and through their role in the 2012-2013 OSPCA investigation of the facility, they also fought extremely hard to over turn a breeding ban that would restrict their captive breeding program. That breeding program is mostly tied around their captive beluga breeding program that they carry out with SeaWorld. Continuing that program is vital for both SeaWorld and the Vancouver Aquarium as Marineland Canada holds the market share of captive belugas and refuses to deal any of them for what other facilities see as a reasonable price. The effort they put into fighting that ban is in direct relationship to trying to ensure another option for breeding belugas to drive down Marineland’s market share and also drive down Marineland’s price.
The industry self regulation process set in play in Ontario recently released the Guidelines and Recommendations for captive marine mammals. The Vancouver Aquarium, who had a Vet on the panel, put out a press release welcoming the changes and noting that they met all of them already. Marineland on the other hand, only had a member of their administration on the panel and has not publicly acknowledged the recommendations or the new guidelines. Moves internally from the industry have shown that if advocates fight hard for new regulations or legislation that impact the industry as a whole, then they will defend the industry as a whole – even if they are reluctant to support Marineland Canada or their practices. However, if strategies manage to hurt Marineland individually they are more than happy to pile on to increase their market share and drive down prices for Marineland’s captive animal stock. The process is called differential accumulation – pressure applied in one area will be leveraged and capitalized in another. If activists who oppose Marineland feel like they are fighting something much larger, it is because most of the time they are. New regulations, breeding/importing bans impact the whole industry and are fought on that level – they also impact the global trade of animals so they garner industry support from outside the Country as well. However, Marineland’s weakenesses are at the same time being exposed and leveraged within the industry for their own aims. The more pressure advocates apply and the weaker Marineland gets the more industry will pile on. This is a process that would make it much more likely for Marineland to individually collapse than it would for strict industry wide regulations or import/export bans.
As for CAZA, Marineland’s influence within the organization has been in decline for some time, but the amount of pressure over the last three years has sped up this process. Aside from more and larger players entering the market, Marineland’s practices have increased pressure against all facilities and had a negative impact on the captive animal industry in Canada. Other parks know this, resent it, and want this to end. Pressure to change practices is coming from outside and inside and the more resistant that Marineland is to this the more other facilities will fight to cut into their market share. It is extremely vital to know this internal struggle in order to understand moves made by the industry and by individual facilities and advocates should be looking for ways in which we can leverage this process in order to have the largest possible positive impact on the industry as a whole.