This is Kiska. She’s one of three orcas in the Western Hemisphere who came from the wild and has spent years in a tank without another orca. Her story and the controversy over her care can be found elsewhere on the web. This is not really a story about Kiska.
This is Marineland of Canada, where Kiska lives, one of the most controversial animal theme parks in the world. The story of issues confirmed and alleged with the park can be found elsewhere on the web. This is not really a story about Kiska.
This is Phil. Phil is a former Marineland trainer. He’s the centerpiece of a lawsuit that involved a walrus. This story can be found elsewhere on the web and in a documentary film. This is not really a story about Phil.
It’s a story about his tweets.
In full disclosure, I don’t really know Phil and have never communicated with him other than through some short conversations on twitter a few years back. Recently, I came across a few videos of Kiska allegedly banging her head against the side of her tank. To learn more, I went to the source, and I was intrigued by the tweets I discovered on his account. I did not contact him prior to writing this post. His tweets are public statements that should be able to stand on their own merits.
Let me share those videos with you now. First is one filmed at ground level, the second one was simultaneously shot from a drone.
Oh shit. I am hereby attesting that the video belongs to Phil Demers. It is being used here for informational purposes only under the fair use clause of international copyright law.
This is Jenny.
She’s a famous Canadian animal rights activist who once broke into a pig breeding factory and ran out with a rescued piglet (which is happy and healthy, I might add). You can find the story elsewhere. Jenny organized the event in Phil’s video and her husband even filmed much of the ground level action. SO…. I’m now going to attest that the owner of the video just might be Jenny McQueen. And again fair use.
Oh Satan, Barnum, and Holer, I’m so confused.
Phil says she was bashing her head. Jenny says she was bashing her body. And Jenny was there in person to witness it. Dr. Lori Marino has an interesting explanation.
There’s something else that I find intriguing. Here is video shot by Lincoln O’Barry just after the Miami Seaquarium was hit by a hurricane. I consider this to be a welfare check on an orca at a park that was not communicating its status at the time.
Now look again at the Marineland drone flyover.
I wouldn’t call that a welfare check. That’s some serious PETA-type marketing going on there.
Seriously, Phil. Check out what PETA did at SeaWorld San Diego and its waterpark.
What did PETA ever do to you?
Well, Phil, what’s the worse that could happen?
Listen man, you’ve got to have a large set of cajones to be an animal rights activist and get blocked by PETA.
But there’s something that concerns me that Phil recently tweeted:
I come from the nonprofit sector and this comes across as a potential misunderstanding of how nonprofit charities work. Not all charities are 100% volunteer. Many hire staff and executives. And those executives tend to earn good money because they put in a lot of time on the job, with duties such as fundraising and operations.
According to charity navigator, those salaries will vary depending on the cost of living where the executive is based (someone in LA, for instance, will typically earn more than someone in Omaha). It varies on the charity’s budget. The higher the budget, the more responsibilities for the executive, and thus the higher salary. There are some executives that are overcompensated. This is why, as with a for profit corporation, there’s a board. The board can renegotiate the employment contract or terminate the executive’s employment altogether. And yes, 40-60% of your donation goes to overhead which allows the nonprofit to carry out its mission – things like office rental and utilities, office supplies, marketing, operations, salary, travel, etc.
So if Phil has a problem with charities, how should people support freeing Kiska?
So, of course, I went to the website….
….and the damn thing rerouted me to a gofundme page raising money for Phil’s legal defense against a major lawsuit by his former employer, Marineland. If you’re interested, there’s plenty written about that elsewhere. But it begs the question: How much of the $200,000+ dollars raised is being allocated for #freekiska and how much for #freephil.
Registered nonprofit charities are required to be transparent in their finances – tax records, financial statements, annual reports are all available to the public. It’s how we know where the money goes at Ocean Wise (until earlier this year, owner of the Vancouver Aquarium), the Wildlife Conservation Society, PETA, and Earth Island.
But Phil’s not a registered non-profit charity. He’s Phil. He’s an activist with a following, a social media influencer, and a defendant with a gofundme page. I’m not asking Phil to break down where that raised money’s going. But if he’s telling people it’s the way to #freekiska and it’s actually all going to #freephil, that’s the epitome of “rais[ing] funds on false promises.”
Since many of my conversations tend to be confidential and off-the-record, I frequently do not divulge the identities of most of the people I speak with on the matter of marine life parks, zoos, and aquariums. Some of them are animal welfare or animal rights activists (and sometimes they’re both), others are park executives or owners.
I personally tend to categorize activists of any kind into three tiers – there are those that practice diplomacy, those that are willing to employ guerilla tactics, and those that live on a bully pulpit.
Over the past half-decade, there have been an increasing number of undisclosed discussions behind-the-scenes between park operators and activists. At SeaWorld alone, the end of breeding, the end of riding belugas, the end of stepping on dolphin rostrums – these are not just the results of outside campaigns. Somebody, and you’ll likely never find out who or with what organization they’re with, is always discussing options with the management.
Look, I don’t care if Phil goes after Marineland. I personally don’t care for the park and, in my own smartass way, I even figured out how they were going to handle their beluga overcrowding issue.
So, here’s the thing. Phil can play with his bully pulpit in the wilds of Canada. But now he’s threatening other institutions. This is just one of many:
When somebody with 35,000 twitter followers threatens a park or aquarium operator like this, it makes them second guess talking with those activists who are practicing diplomacy. And when it comes to the animals….you can take baby steps and work on improving welfare until a suitable facility is built, or you can push for the closure of the facility altogether, in which case you better have a shit ton of money ready to pay for the care and feeding of the animals.
I know where we can find the first $214,015. 😉
And now, I’d like to involve a different Kiska, a Southern Resident also known as K18 in my double entendre of a conclusion.