PORT HILFORD – The head of the international Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP) is refuting the findings of a Marineland Canada report last week that claims the site of his organization’s planned refuge for sea park whales on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is “polluted” and “unacceptable for marine mammals.”
What’s more, WSP Executive Director Charles Vinick says the Niagara (Ont.) marine zoo had been “in direct contact” with him about the possibility of moving at least one its whales to the proposed sanctuary near Port Hilford only days before it released its findings on the Internet and was, itself, charged by Ontario police for unauthorized use of marine mammals.
“They [Marineland] raised some environmental issues in our discussion, but we talked about them as items that we are well aware of and looking into, and that we fully anticipate that they’re either not a problem, or we can solve the problem,” Vinick told The Journal in a phone interview from his offices in California on Thursday (Dec. 16).
“To say that the entire proposed sanctuary site is polluted is simply not accurate. If we had found something, we would have abandoned the site. But we haven’t.”
He added: “The irony here is that I was in direct contact with their attorney [the week before he put the report out] about the potential of having whales from Marineland come to the sanctuary. It was a very cordial discussion. We even set a date to continue those discussions after the first of the year. At no time did Marineland mention this report that they’d obviously been working on.”
According to the Canadian Press, Niagara regional police charged Marineland on Monday (Dec. 13) for allegedly using dolphins and whales for “entertainment purposes during the month of August, without being authorized to do so.”
In the CP piece, the park denied the allegations and blamed the charge against it on “ideologically driven activists,” stating: “Our animal presentation contains marine mammals undertaking behaviours they exhibit in ocean environments. These behaviours are combined with an educational script delivered by Marineland staff, providing a foundation in understanding of these important marine species.”
No one from Marineland was available to comment to The Journal about its WSP report, but the 72-page “Preliminary Analysis of the Whale Sanctuary Project” released Monday (Dec. 13) makes a strongly worded case against the organization and its plans in Port Hilford.
“The proposed site is objectively unacceptable for a marine mammal facility,” it states. “The entire proposed sanctuary site is polluted, and closed for fishing as ‘contaminated’ due to ‘pollution’ by unrevoked issued Orders of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. There are two large unremediated toxic gold mine tailing dump sites from two historic Stamp Mill sites in the sanctuary site itself or adjacent to it (one is directly on the shore of the sanctuary the other one is situated on Barachois Brook, which drains directly into the sanctuary site). And the site contains the unremediated wreck of a car ferry in Barachois Cove.”
But, according to Vinick, Marineland does not have current, accurate data to back up its claims about pollution and contamination in the area.
“No one does,” he said. “The last survey of this area in Port Hilford Bay was, from what I know, between 2005 and 2012. There’s been no more recent review of it. They [DFO] keep it closed because nobody seems to want to open it. No one cares. There’s no fishing there of those species [molluscs]. So, we are doing that data collection, all of this environmental review, right now and have been for 18 months.”
Moreover, he said, testing so far has uncovered no signs of the type or extent of environmental degradation that Marineland claims compromise the sea water at or around the sanctuary’s site. “We’ve found no problem in any salt water, water surveys, or water assessments – either for the chemicals that they’re concerned about in shellfish or for arsenic or mercury [from gold mining],” he noted, adding: “We’re now doing a much more extensive study, and sharing all of it with regulators in the [Nova Scotia] Department of Environment to figure out if there is any problem.”
Vinick said testing did reveal arsenic in a freshwater pond adjacent to the sanctuary site, but he noted, “there are many kinds of arsenic. There are inorganic and various subsets of two different designations. There are a lot of scientists [identifying] what types are harmful to humans and others. But it’s [also] not anywhere near us. We’ve only found it [arsenic] in freshwater, not in salt water.”
In fact, he said, Marineland makes several mistakes describing the boundaries of the sanctuary site, itself. Specifically, he noted, the report erroneously includes Barachois Cove in its findings. “The cove, that shallow area to the southwest, has never been a part of the sanctuary. They [also] claim there’s a ship wreck there. That’s not a ship wreck. That’s a barge. And, of course, the owner will remove that barge.”
Vinick stressed that the WSP discloses the results of its research and testing regularly to the government agencies on which it depends for permitting and regulatory approvals. “That includes all the literature going back as far as we can find data,” he said. “We’ve coalesced all of that information. It’s all part of what we analyze, and what we submit to the government.”
Ultimately, Vinick said, “We don’t have any indication that the site is not acceptable. We have every indication that the site is acceptable. This is not a contest with Marineland to see who can find what. The only thing that matters is the welfare of the animals.”
Vinick, who confirmed that he has not “been in touch” with Marineland since the report’s release, thinks the organization is clearly concerned about its reputation and the “number of animal welfare groups in Canada that are raising questions” about its practices.
“Maybe, they think that by attacking us some of this will stop. But I don’t see how anything about us serves any of the issues they’re dealing with?”
As for the future of cetacean transfers from Marineland, he said: “We’re still certainly interested in continuing discussions with them depending on what happens with the issues they are dealing with that are not related [to us].
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal