Marineland served a $1.25 million lawsuit against former trainer Christine Santos on Thursday for telling Torstar News Service a killer whale was sporadically bleeding from its tail.
The suit says whale’s cuts were minor and that Santos knew that.
“Ms. Santos’ communication of the (allegations) to the Star was calculated to disparage Marineland in its business,” said the 20-page statement of claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in St. Catharines.
In an Oct. 18 story, Santos, who had been fired the day before, said Kiska, the park’s lone killer whale, had been bleeding “on and off” since July and couldn’t be treated because her training had regressed. The bleeding had been getting “progressively worse,” she said, and had been “gushing” the week prior to the interview.
The lawsuit also says the killer whale hadn’t lost her training.
Marineland lawyer Andrew Burns told Torstar News Service in October that Santos’ account was “seriously inaccurate, false and, if published, are defamatory of Marineland, its veterinarians and (owner John) Holer.”
In an interview Thursday evening, Santos said of the lawsuit: “The whole thing — all the allegations are ridiculous. I’m shocked. I just learned about the facts today.”
Santos, 33, worked at the park for 12 years and is the trainer featured kissing a beluga in the long-running “everyone loves Marineland” commercial.
“I’m prepared to fight the whole thing all the way,” she said. “I’m a strong person. Just because I’m a girl I won’t be intimidated.”
The suit seeks $1 million in general damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.
Burns also told Torstar News Service in October that “it was simply not appropriate” for Marineland to “engage in a debate through the media regarding the condition of Marineland’s animals” due to the ongoing investigation by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Toronto Star began a series of stories in August detailing allegations by former trainers and supervisors that animals were suffering due to sporadically poor water quality and insufficient staff.
The claim says Santos was “upset” because, in August 2011, Marineland refused to co-operate in a reality show about her boyfriend Phil Demers’ relationship with park walrus Smooshi. Demers had an unusually close relationship with Smooshi, which was described as “imprinting,” a bond that usually forms between a mother and her offspring.
The claim says the pair intended to “profit” on the relationship between Demers and the walrus.
“Consistent with best practices worldwide, Marineland makes efforts to avoid any alleged ‘imprinting’ of its animals,” the claim says.
Demers was among eight whistleblowers in the Star’s original stories on Marineland. Currently, 15 former staffers have given accounts claiming poor treatment of animals at the Niagara Falls tourist attraction.
The lawsuit claims Demers quit shortly before opening day in May 2012 because he and Santos “mistakenly believed that Marineland would not be able to proceed with its marine mammal show if Mr. Demers was no longer employed at Marineland.”
Santos told Torstar News Service that before she was fired in October she was asked to sign a document that included a statement she had never seen animal abuse at Marineland. She said she refused because “it didn’t feel right.”
In the claim, Marineland says Santos promised to come back the next day to sign it.
On Thursday evening Santos said she really misses Kiska.
“It was all because of her,” she said of her reasons for speaking to the Star in October. “I just wanted what was best for Kiska. It just comes down to her.”