When Phil Demers posted a tweet joking about stealing a walrus, he hardly expected it to result in visitation by the Niagara Police. But that’s exactly what happened.
Demers, a well-known Canadian animal rights activists, admits he’s no stranger to police—though the relationship isn’t hostile. His story has garnered media attention for nearing a decade at this point and has gained nothing but momentum in the last few years. Though Demers’ tweet was a joke, it’s the reality that surrounds his life that he considers funny.
“That’s the whole basis of my life these days, is just how funny it actually is,” said Demers to The Post Millennial in a phone interview.
Demers v. MarineLand
The context to fully understand Demers’ story is what makes the situation all the more unbelievable. For 12 years of Demers’ life, he was an employee at MarineLand, an Ontario animal theme park, where he’d gained media attention for his “anomalous” relationship with a walrus named Smooshi.
Smooshi, the last remaining walrus at MarineLand, believes that Demers is her mother. That incredible relationship led Demers to a brief appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Demers’ activism stems from what he saw in his time working for MarineLand, and the literally unlivable conditions the walruses have had to put up with. Demers cites the stunning fact that within the last two years alone, four walruses have died in the theme park’s captivity.
“The fact of the matter is, more than four walruses have died in less than two years. Smooshi is the last walrus alive.”
Blackfish was “paradigm-shifting”
In 2013, a documentary titled Blackfish caught international attention for shining light on the conditions experienced by marine mammals in parks like MarineLand and SeaWorld. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for wider release. Though Demers’ activism efforts pre-date the film itself, he credits the film for grabbing the world’s attention.
“I call [Blackfish] the paradigm shift. My story came out before that,” said Demers. “The world didn’t seem prepared to accept the things MarineLand was doing to its animals.”
At the time after Blackfish’s release, stock for SeaWorld went sinking. The company’s stock price fell nearly 60 percent,
“I kind of had to trench these crazy tides before the paradigm shift, but it’s the paradigm shift that I largely attribute to Blackfish that took me to a new echelon that’s raised my voice in a way that I’m able to sustain this crazy MarineLand assault in excess of six years.”
And an assault it has truly been. The culture’s “awakening” to the harms marine mammals face in parks like MarineLand have been noticeable, says Demers, who says he sees attendance dwindling at the park every year.
“I’ve diligently watched their parking lot grow emptier and emptier, year after year. They’re hanging on by a thread.
Canada bans whale and dolphin captivity
Demers believes the culture has changed, and it’s a welcome shift. “They’re living in a world that rejects them. These companies are trying to thrive in a time that rejects them, in a country that rejects them.”
Here, Demers refers to the Canadian law which outright bans the captivity of whales in dolphins, nationwide. The bill, which passed in June of 2019, was “huge,” and it was a bill which Demers says he worked on “from inception.”
“I was there when we tabled the bill. I had a heavy hand on the bill.”
What the future has in store
As for what’s next for the animals still in captivity, Demers’ points to the innovative projects taking place on Canada’s east and west coasts; orca and beluga sanctuaries.
“These animals wouldn’t survive in the wild. But what they are doing on the East and West is called the Whale Sanctuary Project, where they release beluga whales on the east, and orcas on the west. This is the future,” said Demers, in what sounded like the most excited he’d been the entire interview.
Demers says the sanctuaries would be “One-hundred fold” the size of any pool made to kept whales in. The whales would be in an environment that much more closely resembles a natural habitat, where they can experience cleaner waters and the feeling of tides.
You can hear more about Demers’ story through one of his several appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience.
To support Demers in his ongoing fight, you can click here to donate to his GoFundMe.