The Rabbi and the Goat

It’s time for some reader feedback.

When I write articles, they are very objective, written for established trade publications, go through a vetting process with an experienced editor, and result in a paycheck. When I blog, my posts are my opinion, as pointed out in the disclaimer on this website and on its accompanying social media channels. I make no money off of them. I see something of interest or concern and I share it. These topics of interest to me are as far ranging as the dangers of the amphibious tourist “duck boats” found around North America to concerns with potential locations for a whale sanctuary to a lawsuit against Disney by a Malaysian palm oil company to a travel company promising to end cetacean captivity while, at the same time, its Chinese owner opens a new dolphinarium with dolphins caught using inhumane methods by the fishermen of Taiji, Japan.

Because of the nature of the claims in my posts, I research extensively from publicly available material and base those opinions in fact. A few things that Phil Demers tweeted caught my eye, and thus the blog post titled “The True Ruler of Marineland.” I will address the remainder of Mr. Garrett’s tweet later in this piece and, for the record, I do not know Mr. Garrett, and he, obviously, does not know me.

On numerous occasions, I’ve accepted offers and requests to speak with someone who disagrees with what I wrote about their company, organizations, or themselves. I love to set the record straight when I’m wrong. But when I’m threatened by anybody with either violence or litigation, why place myself at risk? Besides, as pointed out below, Demers’ tweets and his other social media posts are public statements. They should be able to stand on their own. If they have to be explained, they shouldn’t be there to begin with. So, Demers’ request doesn’t warrant an interview. It warrants a fact check. Join me now as I go line by line of my previous blog post to show what is fact and what is opinion.

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.

FACT: All of the above about Kiska is true. This is an actual photo of 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.

FACT: All of the above about Marineland of Canada is true. This is an actual park map of Marineland.

FACT: The title of the blog post was taken from this tweet written by Phil Demers, wherein he refers to himself as “the true ruler of MarineLand.” It should be noted that “MarineLand” is the correct spelling of the park. Throughout the post, when I state “Marineland of Canada” or “Marineland,” I am in actuality referring to “MarineLand of Canada,” the park, and/or its corporate owner, “Marineland of Canada, Inc.”

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.

FACT: This paragraph about Phil Demers is true. Demers was employed by Marineland from 2000 to 2012. The film is titled “The Walrus and the Whistleblower,” directed by Nathalie Bibeau, co-written by Bibeau and Christina Clark, and produced by Bibeau, Frederick Bohbot, and Valerie Shamash.

It’s a story about his tweets.

FACT: As mentioned above, this post is about his tweets and statements on other social media channels. Had I wanted to write a piece on Demers outside of his social media presence, I would have asked for an interview.

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.

FACT: The above paragraph is true.

Let me share those videos with you now. First is one filmed at ground level, the second one was simultaneously shot from a drone.

FACT: The above statement is true.

FACT: The above were all tweeted by Phil Demers.

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.

FACT: I have no reason to doubt that Demers owns the rights to the videos. I have shared them under the fair use clause for informational and noncommercial purposes only and for nonmonetary gain. I make no money off this blog.

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.

FACT: This is Jenny McQueen. She did, in fact, steal a piglet. Demers actually credits McQueen and her husband for the ground level video on “Breaking MarineLand,” his Facebook page:

Oh Satan, Barnum, and Holer, I’m so confused.

OPINION: Any time I cite Satan, Barnum, and Holer in the same line, it’s usually opinion.

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

FACT: Demers states “bashing her head.” McQueen states “bashing her body.”

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.

OPINION and FACT: The first line, where I say I find it intriguing, is opinion. The second line is true. The third line is a combination of opinion (“I consider this”) and truth. The intent of the drone flyover was to check on the welfare of the orca right after the storm, at a time the park was not communicating with the public.

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.

OPINION and FACT: While a part of the intent of the flyover may have been to check on the welfare of the whale, unfurling banners within parks is an established PETA propaganda technique.

FACT: Demers tweeted this statement on the 20th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in modern history.

Seriously, Phil. Check out what PETA did at SeaWorld San Diego and its waterpark.

FACT: These are actual images from PETA demonstrations at SeaWorld San Diego’s Orca Encounter on July 24, 2017 and at Aquatica San Diego’s wave pool on July 3, 2017. For direct comparison, below is the banner as seen from the drone at Marineland again.

FACT: Demers tweeted this one day after his prior “Fuck PETA” tweet.

What did PETA ever do to you?

OPINION: This is rhetorical question, which is answered by the following tweet.

Well, Phil, what’s the worse that could happen?

OPINION: Another rhetorical question which is, again, answered by one of Demers’ tweets.

FACT: Demers posted this tweet online with PETA’s block as its image

Listen man, you’ve got to have a large set of cajones to be an animal rights activist and get blocked by PETA.

OPINION: The term “large set of cajones” is written as colloquialism. On a literal front, I have no knowledge of Demers’ anatomy, nor do I care to. I will put this line into further context with three facts and an opinion: Fact 1. I have critiqued the actions of PETA numerous times and have never been blocked from any of the organization’s social media accounts. Fact 2. Rather, without my advanced knowledge, PETA placed me on its press list, something that I’m actually grateful for as it helps keeps me apprised of what issues the organization is pursuing. Fact 3. The only person, company, or organization that I critiqued that has to date blocked me from their social media accounts has been former SeaWorld trainer and Blackfish star John Hargrove – and even that wasn’t a complete block as he didn’t bother to block me from the all social media. Opinion: Regardless of the fact that Hargrove and I rarely saw eye to eye, and understanding that there are many who feel otherwise, I still respect him for his time as a trainer specializing in orca and his knowledge of issues facing orcas in theme park environments.

But there’s something that concerns me that Phil recently tweeted:

OPINION: As somebody with a background in management and directorship of nonprofits, including educational, museum, and arts organizations, this is indeed a matter of personal concern. I have, over the years, asked for more transparency in organizations that raise money for advocacy causes, and that includes individuals campaigning to raise money for animal welfare or animal rights issues.

FACT: The following tweet was written by Demers. The two paragraphs following it are industry standards as to how salaries are typically determined for registered nonprofit charities and how raised funds are typically allocated. It is apparent by the wording in Demers’ tweet that he may be unaware how registered nonprofit charities are set up to operate and why. Regarding one point in my commentary, boards can and do dismiss executives or ask them to step down due to inability to properly carry out their job duties or for performing actions contrary to the mission and code of ethics of the organization. Wayne Pacelle’s departure from HSUS is one such example.

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?

OPINION: Again, the above is a rhetorical question, followed by the following actual tweet and Demers response

FACT: in the following tweet, Demers encourages the questioner to visit the SaveSmooshi website in order to help Kiska. As the screen captured video shows, typing in the recommended URL reroutes the browser to a gofundme page for Demers’ legal defense fund.

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.”

FACT: The above three paragraphs are what are considered a cumulative entry. Together, they reach a conclusion based on three important pieces of fact that proceed them: 1. Upon inquiry, Demers advised an individual to visit the SaveSmooshi website. 2. The SaveSmooshi website reroutes to a fundraising page for Demers’ legal defense fund. 3. Demers is not a registered nonprofit charity and therefore not subject to the same transparency as a registered nonprofit. Of important note, the blog post does not question Demers’ personal financial contributions to animal welfare and animal rights groups, nor does it question his fundraising for such organizations. It points out the lack of transparency on where the funds raised on the gofundme page have or will be allocated. With such lack of transparency, it is impossible to determine if any funds from this defense campaign are being allocated directly to the causes of #savesmooshi and #freekiska or if Demers is practicing the very activities and attributes that he railed against in his tweet, which I present again here for reference:

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.

FACT: This is true and my guidelines regarding confidential sources are referenced in this blog’s disclaimer.

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.

OPINION: Based on personal experience. This opinion applies to all activism, not just animal welfare/animal rights.

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.

TRUTH: The is true. Some of these have become public, such as the Pacelle-Manby partnership. Most of them have not and will not ever become public. As my sources remain confidential, the disclaimer remains in effect.

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.

FACT: As both a professional journalist and blogger, I have not had good experiences dealing with Marineland. I can appreciate the impact Demers’ activism has had on the park. A few years ago when Demers encouraged animal rights activists to bombard the park’s phone lines, I had the misfortune of calling the park on a journalistic matter, only to have the woman who picked up the phone yell at me before I could even utter a word, “TELL YOUR BUDDY PHIL TO FUCK OFF!!!!!” Again, I don’t know Demers, but that’s the kind of influence he’s had on the park. Also, fact: I did indeed create that graphic when Marineland’s founder John Holer was still alive.

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:

FACT: This is one of a number of similar tweets by Demers directed at zoos, aquariums, and theme parks that have blocked him on twitter.

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.

FACT: Let’s look at Garrett’s tweet again:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

Garrett again shows he doesn’t know me with his opinion that “You’re butthurt because an activist is greeting actual results for once and scared it jeopardizes your so called diplomacy? Your diplomacy has gotten ZERO results in 50 years. Keep being diplomatic and achievement nothing.” So, here’s my opinion on this. Garrett’s welcome to his opinion, and that’s all it is. If this is all he has to argue about within the post, so be it, because in the days since, he hasn’t addressed any other part of the piece. That’s not enough to make me feel “butthurt.” Fact is, it doesn’t matter if action is being taken via HSUS’s methods or via Demers’. Anyone working to shut down a park or transfer animals out of one that isn’t closing needs an exit plan. I invite Garrett, who is self-proclaimed “passionate about marketing” to put his marketing spin on the following:

What happens to the animals if Marineland permanently closes? What happens if it closes and the whale sanctuary hasn’t been built yet? What happens when the government and the courts determine that Phil Demers can’t have custody of Smooshi and her pup? What happens to the dolphins? What happens to the bears? Who pays to feed the animals while they’re in limbo? Where does the money come from to fight the animals going to other zoos…..or worse? What is Demers’ exit plan for the animals he claims to be saving?

I know where we can find the first $214,015. 😉

FACT: The above is true. Demers has raised over $200,000 for his legal defense on a page he’s sending people to under the guise of saving the Marineland animals. Even if he were to donate this entire amount of money to just feeding the animals after a Marineland closure, based on going feed rates for zoo and aquarium animals, it likely would last no more than two or three months.

I have been following Demers on twitter since 2014. Back then, he played an instrumental role in helping me identify a Canadian trainer who showed up in Taiji. He was also generous in helping me locate images of Marineland’s backstage areas. Back in 2014, Demers’ tweets could be a bit tongue-in-cheek, some of them could even be questioned for their logic, such as this one where he seemingly refers to a walrus he’s trying to gain legal possession of as his pet:

Should Demers be silenced? Not at all. He has something to say.

But that something is often lost because of his brand.

Demers’ brand is being an Asshole, with a capitalized A.

I’m not making this up. This comes directly from Demers. In the press kit that I unexpectedly received in April for “The Walrus and the Whistleblower,” Demers refers to himself as an Asshole.

As long as I’ve been following him on social media, he’s presented himself to his followers and the world with a rockstar persona. In 2013, he was sued by Marineland for a number of claims, a case that is still ongoing. Included in the court documentation is the write-up for a reality TV show Demers proposed to Marineland’s owners in 2011, called “The Walrus Whisperer.”

He’s hip. He’s cool. And he’s won the love of a 1,300 pound Pacific walrus named Shooshi. To say Phil Demers is not your typical guy is an understatement. From working as a marine mammal trainer to drumming in an Elvis tribute band, this adrenaline junkie, world traveler and practical joker has accomplished more in his 33 years from some people do in a lifetime.

The Walrus Whisperer, a new half-hour series, follows his interesting and off-beat daily existence, from the trials and tribulations of training dolphins and walruses at Marineland to clowning around with his spandex-clad dancing roommate, Spandy Andy. The rebel of the marine world, this show promises to be a hilarious romp and fascinating behind the scenes look at the unique life of Phil Demers.

So, grab your swim goggles and come join the self-proclaimed Kanye West of animal trainers as he dives in head first and proves why they call him the Walrus Whisperer.

Typically, at this point, I’d bring up Kanye’s recent behavior, but mental illness and bipolar disorder are not laughing or trivial matters. Being that I’m posting this just after National Mental Health Awareness Week, I’d like to share with all my readers that if you or someone you know suffers from depression, mania, hypermania, or bipolar disorder, there is help. NAMI in the US and CMHA in Canada are there for you. Both have branches in big cities and small, from San Francisco and Toronto to Angel’s Camp and St. Catharines.

Back to Demers.

There’s an old Jewish proverb from Poland that has a number of variations. This is perhaps the simplest one. It’s my favorite.

A farmer goes to his Rabbi and says: “Rabbi, I don’t know what to do. I’m living in my house with my wife, her parents, and our six children. There’s no room and we don’t have enough money to buy a new house or expand the one we’re in.”

The Rabbi says, “Do you have a goat? Put the goat in the house.”

A day later, the farmer returns to the Rabbi. “Rabbi,” he says. “It’s horrible. The goat is pooping everywhere, it’s eating all our food and the children’s’ clothes. It tried to start a fight with my mother-in-law.”

The Rabbi told him, “Does the goat have a pen? Put the goat back in the pen.”

So the farmer went home and removed the goat. The next day, he returned to the Rabbi smiling.

“Thank you Rabbi,” he said. “Once we got rid of the goat, we realized how much room we had in the house.”

The ThemedReality moral to the story is: If you eliminate the goat…..I mean GOAT – those tweets and posts where Demers acts like he’s the “Greatest of All Time” – you’ll see what you’ve been missing all along.

And now, to quote the Pythons, something completely different.

I was recently asked to promote an online third-party fundraising campaign for the Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP). This is something I simply can’t do. Now, there’s a belief amongst some that I’m opposed to the organization because I’ve been critical of it in the past. I’m actually not opposed to it and, in fact, I believe my standing on WSP will surprise quite a few of you.

My decision not to promote this fundraiser has nothing to do with WSP. I’ve long held a policy of not endorsing any online fundraisers or petitions of any kind. Simple as that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t support online fundraisers, but if you want to donate to WSP, the easiest way is to donate to them directly. It’s that simple.

And while I appreciate WSP, I’m not currently endorsing it. Unless it gains the full cooperation of at least one park operator, its future will lie in lengthy and costly litigation.

I would gladly endorse an orca sanctuary if SeaWorld partnered with WSP in its design and operation and if the facility was fully accredited by both GFAS and AZA. I feel it’s time to move beyond the conspiracies of SeaWorld or WSP wanting to do harm to the orcas or set them free in the ocean in an effort to name the other party as being at fault. It’s time to move beyond the established hate, suspicion, and distrust on both sides to ensure a humane and secure future for these whales. WSP is not PETA. And while it’s become obvious that the current ruling party of SeaWorld wants the orcas out, it also does them no good to see the orcas harmed for any reason.

If you’re a life-long SeaWorld fan, what I’m about to say may surprise you, but chances are you already know this but aren’t willing to accept it. I don’t blame you.

  • Orcas are no longer integral to the SeaWorld business model. This is not the SeaWorld of George Millay, William Jovanovich, August Busch, InBev, Blackstone, or even Zhonghong. On August 20, SeaWorld announced the sudden passing of Amaya, a young orca at its San Diego park. It was announced via three short paragraphs on the San Diego park’s Facebook page and the company’s main twitter account. This news did not appear on the main SeaWorld Facebook page nor on the SeaWorld Cares portion of the company’s website at all. That was pretty much it. The death was announced on a Friday. The following Monday, SeaWorld announced the opening date of two long delayed roller coasters in Florida. Two days after that, it announced the opening date for its new coaster in San Diego. This is what happens when corporate priorities shift.
  • If SeaWorld had wanted to emphasize its orcas as its premier attraction and secure them for decades to come, it could have reversed its self-imposed breeding band or recalled its orcas on loan to Spanish park Loro Parque. But it didn’t. Over the past five years, by ending breeding, giving away the orcas to Loro Parque, and prohibiting its licensee parks in China and the UAE from housing orcas, the company has given up tens of millions of dollars in assets and potential revenue. The orcas are headed out, likely within the next five years. The writing’s on the wall.

Where will they head? I see two options: a whale sanctuary, which I would support if SeaWorld played a pivotal role, or China.

Or there’s always that one other solution nobody likes to discuss…..

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