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Tom Western, a marine mammal trainer at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont.,, keeps his eye on eleven Beluga whales through a large underground window in their outdoor tank on Monday Jan. 18, 2000. A total of eleven whales, eight females and three females, occupy the tank. (Denis Cahill/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government says it plans to beef up regulations to protect animals kept in zoos and aquariums, including Marineland.

Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur made the announcement in a statement this morning ahead of a noon news conference.

She says the province will work with animal experts and other stakeholders to come up with standards for caring for captive animals.

That entails strengthening the existing Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as well as introducing new rules that apply to marine animals.

She says regulators will also look at licensing the province's more than 60 zoos and aquariums.

"There is no place in our province for those who abuse animals," Ms. Meilleur said in the statement, adding that the goal is to "make sure all animals can live free of abuse and neglect."

The move comes under mounting pressure from animal-welfare activists – including former Marineland staff – who allege animals at the amusement park aren't being looked after properly.

Dozens of protesters rushed the gates of the park this weekend, calling for an end to animal captivity.

And critics of the park have delivered a petition with 77,000 signatures to the legislature in an effort to spur the government to take immediate action.

Both the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals launched investigations after the former employees complained that poor water quality and other issues was risking the health of the animals.

CAZA, an industry group with its own health and safety standards, said it found no major issues at the park, aside from an issue with the maintenance of the water management system.

Marineland agreed to have an independent assessment of their systems and unannounced inspections by CAZA in the future.

The park has said its primary concern is to provide a safe and healthy environment for their animals.

The OSPCA is continuing its investigation, but recently said it had identified "some areas of concern."

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