Marineland in south of France again criticised over new whale death

An animal welfare association has filed a legal complaint but the park denies it keeps orcas in poor conditions

A view of an orca whale in a marine zoo tank
Marineland has received repeated criticism for the living conditions of its orcas, but it has denied any mistreatment. (Image for illustration only; does not show Marineland)
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Aquatic water park Marineland has once again been criticised by animal welfare associations after it announced the death of an orca, six months after another orca in its care passed away.

The park, in Antibes, Alpes-Maritimes (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), announced the death of 25-year-old Inouk on March 28. In a press release, the park said: “This is terrible news for the animal keepers and all the teams at Marineland.”

An autopsy is set to take place in the next few days, to establish the cause of death. All orca shows at the park this weekend have now been cancelled.

It comes six months after another orca at Marineland, Moana - Inouk’s nephew - died, at the age of 12.

In the wild, orcas (also known as ‘killer whales’) can expect to live to 30 for males and 46 for females (and some have lived to 50-60 and even 80-90 respectively), states the Whale and Dolphin Conservation society.

Marineland now has two orcas left: Wikie, aged 22; and Keijo, aged 10.

Legal complaint: ‘Poor treatment’

Animal welfare association One Voice is now set to file a legal complaint against the park, claiming “poor treatment” of the marine life in its care.

“It is not normal for a 25-year-old killer whale to die [at this age],” said the organisation’s president, Muriel Arnal, to FranceInfo. “It is because of the conditions we have warned about.”

Inouk né et mort dans les bassins du Marineland, une vie broyée par 25 ans de captivité. Nous déposons une plainte contre le parc. Nous ferons tout pour que le delphinarium réponde de ses actes et ne puisse se défiler une fois de plus. #StopDelphinarium

— One Voice (@onevoiceanimal) March 28, 2024

Marineland opened in 1970, and now attracts more than 750,000 visitors per year. However, it has repeatedly been criticised for the conditions in which its orcas are kept, and their methods of transporting the animals.

One Voice has filed several complaints against Marineland since 2019, basing its claims on photos and testimony from experts. It claimed that the cetaceans were showing “repetitive behaviour” that they would not display in the wild, that Moana had subdermal (under the skin) lesions, and that Inouk’s teeth were extremely worn down.

As a result, in September 2023, the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence ordered an expert report on the state of health and living conditions of these animals.

A month later, Moana died.

One Voice stated: "Those responsible will have to be held to account, and we will see to it.”

However, Marineland said that after a full autopsy and months of analysis, Moana’s death had been caused by "acute bacterial septicaemia, which occurs naturally in the wild".

Other allegations

The park has been the subject of several court complaints since 1960, and several orcas have died while under its care.

In December 2023, Bordeaux animal welfare association Défense des milieux aquatiques even launched proceedings against the park in connection with alleged "illegal trade" in protected wild species.

The group’s president, Philippe Garcia, said that it believed Marineland’s “documents on these orcas…to be false", and claimed that “the cetaceans arrived at the park illegally".

It also claims that an agent from environmental agency the Directions régionales de l'environnement, de l'aménagement et du logement (Dreal) must have been involved in this illegal transport, which - if the group’s claims are true - implicates a major breach of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention.

However, Dreal has denied the claims.

In December, a spokesperson said: “We have not been contacted by the authorities about this complaint and therefore have no comment to make.”

The group also disputes “the commercial use of these animals" and said that the only reason an animal should be kept in captivity is to be cared for, if it is no longer able to live safely in the wild.

However, Inouk, Moana, and the two remaining orcas were all born into captivity, after their ancestors were captured at sea and brought to the park.

Past orca deaths

Premature Orca deaths at the park go back decades.

In 1960, the centre's first orca, Calypso, died after just one year in captivity; while Clovis - captured in the United States in 1970 and brought to the park - died three years later. In 1978, Betty was captured in Iceland. She lived in the park for nine years, but died of pneumonia there at the age of 13.

Marineland has denied that the park’s living conditions were to blame for Moana’s death, and states clearly on its website that it “guarantees the health and well-being of the animals by applying or even exceeding the latest national and international reception criteria”.

Orca ban and transport fears

From December 2026, French law will ban whale and orca shows in parks, and - barring exceptions - ban the keeping of orcas and dolphins in captivity.

Yet, One Voice now claims that Marineland is set to comply with this law by selling and transporting its animals to a park in Kobe, Japan, a country that it says is known for being less protective of orcas and dolphins. Marineland has not yet responded to this claim.

Read more: Fears for future of Marineland whales in south of France

Instead, One Voice is now campaigning for the orcas to be housed in a marine sanctuary in Canada.

No transfer - either to Japan or Canada - appears to have been organised yet, however. In January, the Ministry of Ecological Transition said it had not received any requests for permits to transfer the animals abroad, and that “without this authorisation, no transfer can be done”.

One Voice is already working on a court case to avoid the animals from being sold to Japan, after it took Marineland to local court in Grasse, to ask that the orcas’ state of health be ascertained.

In mid-January, the court ordered Marineland to keep its orcas for at least four more months, while the veterinary expertise was completed.

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