Man who wanted to steal a walrus set to expose horror marine park abuse

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A whistleblower accused of plotting to kidnap a walrus is set to challenge a marine park in a bombshell trial, 10 years to the date that he was first hit with the billion-dollar lawsuit.

Phil Demers, from Niagara Falls, has dedicated a decade of his life to fighting Marineland, Canada after reportedly witnessing horrific abuse against animals at the park, while working there as a trainer.

During his time at the attraction, he became widely known for the friendship he had built with a walrus named Smooshi, whom he has continued to raise concerns over since blowing the whistle on the park.

He told the Daily Star: "My relationship with Smooshi the walrus is very special. A bond unlike any I’ve known.

"She recognises me as her mother and is the reason she remains alive today."

Phil eventually went from being a trainer to a full-time activist, making part of his campaign efforts about saving his friend #SaveSmooshi.

"Animal deaths and suffering caused me to quit and speak out against the park," he said.

"I’ve become a more empathetic person because of a Smooshi. A more courageous one too. I owe her this fight."

But as a result of his activism, the campaigner has been met with years of stress after Marineland sued him with claims that he trespassed on the park’s property and that he planned to steal Smooshi.

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Phil, who said he first learned about the $1.5 million suit in the media, said the 10-year-long battle has taken a toll on his mental health.

He explained: "Over the past decade, my lawyers have navigated through an incessant deluge of delays, challenges and costly legal motions all in an effort to exhaust me emotionally and financially.

"I'm constantly in a state of fight or flight and under inordinate amounts of stress.

"But we won every step of the way, and now despite MarineLand’s abusive tactics we have secured the week of Oct 3rd, 2022 for trial. 10 years to the date they allege I tried to kidnap Smooshi the Walrus."

The former trainer said the walrus and her calf Koyuk are still alive at Marineland but are rarely seen in the public after reportedly suffering from a number of health issues.

He added: "Koyuk was recently photoed with skin lesions looking similar to what Zeus [ another walrus at the park ] suffered from prior to his death.

"Smooshi has lost some weight and has lesions as well. These are recently developed and could be from the compromised water."

Recalling the vile conditions he witnessed at the theme park, Phil issued a reminder that it isn't just the walrus family who have suffered at the hands of the attraction.

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He said: "A breakdown in the stadium pool disinfection unit grossly compromised the water in the summer of 2011.

"Rather than fix the issue, the decision was made to use more chlorine. This has adverse effects on the animals ranging from skin and fur loss, bleeding eyes and even death.

"The dolphins skin was flaking off in chunks. Smooshi has a chemical burn. It was even more awful than you can imagine. We were desperate and someone had to do something. It’s what caused me to quit."

In 2019, the federal government passed the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act ( Bill S-203 ). As part of the legalisation, it has been made illegal to have mammals perform for entertainment.

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Marineland was later charged in breach of the bill, which Phil helped pass, for hosting dolphin performances filmed at the attraction last year summer.

"It's more than mere satisfaction. It’s Canadian history," Phil said in response to the recent charges.

In a statement at the time, Marineland told the Toronto Star that the alleged shows were for educational purposes and allowed the public to learn more about the species.

A spokesperson said: “Our animal presentation contains marine mammals undertaking behaviours they exhibit in ocean environments.

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“These behaviours are combined with an educational script delivered by Marineland staff, providing a foundation in understanding of these important marine species.”

It has been reported that Marineland are set to appear in court on Valentines Day, meaning they have two heart-wrenching court appearances this year.

"I believe the very best way to end animal captivity is to financially starve the SeaWorld’s, zoos and aquariums," Phil commented.

"Once they’re no longer viable, the parks will be forced to re-home the animals."

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The former trainer is counter-suing the park for defamation and abusive process and said he has only been able to fund the legal battles through the help of a fundraiser and the general public.

Tens and thousands of supporters have helped stump the costs to continue the fight, which Phil has vowed to see through until the very end.

"Without the online fundraiser, I could never afford the court costs nor keep speaking for Marineland’s animals," he added.

"This is a community effort and I have the best seat in the house. Can’t be thankful enough."

Marineland Canada have been contacted for comment.

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