Elizabeth Smith

Everyone Loves Marineland!(?): Entertainment Animal Advocacy, Praxis, and Resisting Corporate Repression

By, Elizabeth Smith, Recent Graduate of Brock University’s Critical Sociology MA


Following allegations and graphic evidence of animal cruelty and neglect documented by ex-employee whistleblowers of Marineland Canada to the Toronto Star newspaper in late 2012, the ethics surrounding animal captivity have been increasingly contested in regional public discourse. Animal advocates in the Niagara region and beyond have been compelled to demand change at the infamous local captive animal park— whether it be welfare-oriented reform, or radical animal liberation. With this as a backdrop, my research explores the ideologies, experiences, and strategic tactics of anti-Marineland animal advocates; the sociopolitical issues surrounding the largely unexamined but serious issue of imprisoned animals as entertainers; and the ensuing governmental and corporatist attempts to squash dissent of anti-Marineland critics. Situated within a Critical Animal Studies theoretical paradigm as well as a flourishing global anti-captivity critique inspired by the film Blackfish, this research employs semi-structured interviews and participant observation methodologies to analyze advocates’ views on captivity under capitalism and the effectiveness of their praxes. Finally, this research illuminates the nuances of the conventionally-upheld dualistic theoretical debate of animal welfare versus animal rights within zoo and aquaria entertainment contexts through an exploratory examination of advocates’ complex ideological views.

I am very excited to present my research to a like-minded community of people in the areas of Critical Animal Studies, who may be familiar with the high-profile controversy of animal welfare violations at Marineland Canada, and what activists have and continue to do to fight for captive animals’ well-being. This paper is a condensed version of my Master’s thesis which highlights a multitude of topics and issues within the captive animal industry. First, I describe my motivations for examining this topic more in-depth and give a background on the history of resistance by animal activists and community members against Marineland (for both animal welfare/rights and labour/human rights violations as an intersectional struggle). I then summarize a vast literature on the topic including: the moral quandaries of animal captivity (including physical and emotional strain, and its roots in oppressive, imperial human/animal relations), the spectrum of prominent theoretical ideologies in animal advocacy (welfare, rights, “abolitionism”, liberation, etc.), and how animal rights social movements such as this one are embedded within a climate of a growing ‘Green Scare’, facing barriers that other leftist social movements have been facing for decades. I end with my research findings which suggest that an animal rights vs. welfare dualism is not an accurate representation of animal activists’ views and praxis, and that activists/movement organizers need to recognize more complexity and nuances in values and strategies between animal advocates in order to move forward towards a progressive outcome of animal liberation.


Elizabeth Smith is a recent graduate of Brock University’s Critical Sociology MA program in St. Catharines, ON. She also holds a BA in Psychology, and a HBA in Sociology with a Concentration in Critical Animal Studies. Her Master’s thesis focussed on animal advocacy social movements around captive animal entertainment, specifically the ongoing controversy at Marineland Canada. Her primary areas of interest are in critical sociological theory, animal welfare vs. rights theory, social movements, and global political economy. Elizabeth is also a community organizer for a variety of radical causes, regularly taking part in and coordinating grassroots campaigns, demonstrations, and educational outreach related to animal liberation, anti-capitalism, the labour movement, food justice, among others. Elizabeth has written for a number of local independent media outlets, and hopes to publish the work documented in her thesis on Marineland in the near future.