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Animal rights protesters crash Marineland aiming to shut it down

Tourists line up at a viewing area to see a Killer Whale calf swimming with its mother at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont., on July 18, 2001.

Scott Dunlop/CP

Dozens of protesters rushed the gates of Marineland on Sunday demanding an end to what they called the abuse of whales, dolphins and other animals at the amusement park, but the situation was quickly brought under control, police and organizers said.

"No one was really expecting what happened today, but it happened and I feel the anger that people feel," said Dylan Powell of Marineland Animal Defence, one of the groups behind the protest.

The protesters say they want to end animal captivity and their goal is to close down the theme park.

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A crowd that Niagara Region Police estimated at about 800 gathered outside the park property and a group of about 150 rushed the front gates near the show area.

"People did enter into the park, it wasn't part of the demonstration schedule obviously," said Mr. Powell.

Protesters and police confirmed that those who entered the park managed to shut down a dolphin show.

Constable Derek Watson, a Niagara police spokesman, said more than 20 police officers were called in to disperse the protesters, who quickly retreated.

"Once more officers were there, just through our police presence, it sort of dispersed the crowd and pushed them back towards the roadway," Constable Watson said. "For the most part the protesters were very co-operative."

There were no arrests, though Mr. Powell said one trespass ticket was issued.

Marineland, which closed for the season this weekend, was not immediately available for comment.

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The theme park was the subject of allegations from former employees and Zoocheck Canada who claimed animals at the tourist attraction aren't properly cared for and their health is at risk.

Supporters of Zoocheck delivered a petition with 77,000 signatures to the Ontario legislature, demanding that parks like Marineland be better regulated.

The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums launched an investigation in response to the allegations and found no major issues at the park.

Marineland issued a statement last week saying it "very difficult and personally upsetting" for many Marineland staff to see these issues raised through the media and that they only want to provide a safe and healthy environment for the animals in their care.

There were a dozen protests outside Marineland this year and Mr. Powell said the group will spend the winter lobbying the federal government for legislation banning the import or export of marine mammals. Marineland can expect protests to continue next year when the park reopens for a new season, Powell said.

"We will continue to put hundreds of people outside Marineland on a consistent basis."

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