Despite protests and uncertainty surrounding the park’s future, site officials purportedly saw massive year-over-year increase in opening weekend attendance. Photo credit: Marineland
Despite a crowd of “100 or so” protestors outside its park entrance in Niagara Falls on Saturday, Marineland said it had a “successful” opening weekend to kick off the 2023 tourist season.
According to park officials, Marineland saw a 37 per cent jump in attendance at this year’s opening weekend compared to 2022 – the first full season back following the pandemic.
“We are overjoyed to see so many families and visitors return to Marineland Canada,” said owner Marie Holer. “We have worked tirelessly to ensure our guests have a safe and enjoyable experience, and we are pleased to see that our efforts have not gone unnoticed.”
The park reopened to guests on Saturday, May 20 amid both a torrent of criticism from animal rights activists and uncertainty about the tourist attraction’s future.
There have been numerous animal deaths and departures in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, a beluga whale and bottlenose dolphin passed away. The park’s only remaining killer whale Kiska, the last captive orca in Canada, died in March. While Smooshi the walrus and her calf were relocated to a new facility in Abu Dhabi this past winter as part of a legal settlement with former Marineland trainer Phil Demers.
In a press release Tuesday, the park acknowledged the criticism but said it remains “steadfast” in “providing high-quality care for our animals.”
“We understand that our visitors are concerned about the welfare of our animals, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” said Holer. “We want to assure our guests that our animals receive the highest level of care and attention, and we are constantly striving to improve their habitats and well-being. We consistently meet and exceed provincial and federal regulations regarding animal care, something we are very proud of.”
Outside of the bad publicity that’s shadowed Marineland for years, the park also opened the 2023 season amid reports that it could soon be up for sale.
Back in January, Marineland’s long-time legal representative Andrew Burns filed an application with Ontario’s Office of the Integrity Commissioner to lobby the provincial government.
Among Burns’ lobbying goals were, “Sale of Marineland of Canada Inc.” and “Potential zoning changes to the property to permit development.”
At present, the Niagara Falls site is delineated as Open Space and would need to be rezoned to accommodate residential construction.
Talk of the site’s expansive 800-plus acres opening up for development have circulated since park founder John Holer passed away in 2018.
It’s uncertain how much Marineland would fetch in the case of a successful sale to developers, but in August 2021 former employee Phil Demers claimed the owners were asking $300 million for the property.
Marineland remains privately owned and operated by the Holer family.