All About Smooshi

A little over a year ago the Toronto Star started running a series of blistering exposes about Niagara Falls’ Marineland.

Here’s the story so far:

At the heart of these exposes is the relationship between former Marineland trainer Phil Demers and a walrus called Smooshi. For Demers, perhaps the single most difficult aspect of his departure from Marineland, and all that followed, has been his inability to take care of, or even see, Smooshi, who has eating and regurgitation problems along with other chronic health issues. Smooshi also had an incredible attachment to Demers, always seeking him out, or following him around Marineland.

While Demers was at Marineland he was able to try and tend to her needs. Since he has been gone from the park, and can’t set foot anywhere near Smooshi, all he can do is wonder, each and every day, how Smooshi is doing and whether she is even alive. The only way he can really get any answers is through occasional sightings of Smooshi that pop up on video.

A few weeks ago a video of the show at Marineland was posted to YouTube. In it, Smooshi makes an appearance. I asked Demers to analyze what he sees.

Here’s the video:

And here’s Demers’ analysis:

Smooshi and my relationship is a true anomaly that few people are capable of understanding. She is still waiting and always searching for me – it’s heartbreaking. 

There are few situations where we can possibly ever be re-united, but those are the situations I’m hoping for.

Here’s the vid breakdown – 

@ 2:52 Smooshi emerges from the barn. She is playing with fish or sucking the floor – the trainer doesn’t have her attention.

@ 2:55 Smooshi immediately looks around the stage (away from her primary trainer). Historically when I was training other trainers to work with Smooshi I would be elsewhere on the stage, but she would always find me (she has an amazingly keen sense of hearing and smell), so eventually I would have to hide away altogether). She is looking for me – always. 

@ 2:59 The trainer tries to get Smooshi’s attention by giving her a little tap on the shoulder area – it’s proves futile. The trainer waves (which is intended to get Smooshi to wave, but she doesn’t). Smooshi continues to ignore the trainer and look about the stage. 

From this moment till about 3:13, Smooshi can be seen surveying the stage for me while bobbing her head up and down. She is simultaneously regurgitating whatever fish she has brought from backstage. This beats the hell out of me – she is searching for me and regurgitating due to her anxiety.

The trainer continues to try to “work” her, but Smooshi is not interested. A few hand signals go ignored until finally she rolls over. This is done reluctantly as well, as her criteria for this behaviour is just horrible. The trainer is clearly frustrated and tries to play it off as laughable. There’s nothing funny about watching an animal pine for what she believes is her mother. 

Up until 3:50, the trainer continues to try to get Smooshi to perform – Smooshi continues to search, paying little to no attention to the trainer’s repeated requests. 

@ 3:52, Smooshi once again places her head on the stage to regurgitate. The trainer then opts to walk away from Smooshi to try to ger her attention. This is a subtle threat of punishment, as Smooshi knows that if she is left alone on stage (which makes her nervous as she’s a very social animal), she will also not be fed any more fish. The other trainers take this cue and leave stage. 

Smooshi continues to search for me. 

Finally at 4:10 Smooshi begins to perform a wave, then is cut off by the trainer asking for a “no” behaviour. The trainer insists on asking for multiple behaviours in the hopes that Smooshi will perform 1, which will hopefully get her attention back. The “no” works. 

Finally at 4:15 Smooshi performs a “wave”.

The trainer then asks Smooshi for another behaviour (which is ignored) prompting the trainer to once again threaten Smooshi with the “I’m leaving you and taking my bucket” threat. The camera then pans away. The trainer makes good with the threat, as she’s seen grabbing the bucket and walking away.

This video breaks my heart. Watching it makes me feel ill. All Smooshi ever thinks about is me – that’s the sad nature of our relationship. Always has been, always will be – until we meet again. 

I don’t wanna watch this video again.

It’s a great reminder that all the lawsuits, and all the hue and cry, is about the well-being of the animals in captivity at Marineland–thinking, feeling, unique, animals, one of which has a unique bond with a human being that hopes he can somehow win her a better life.

Demers and the other Marineland whistleblowers have gone through a lot this past year, too. And the only way they can somehow make it all worth it is if they endure, and then win, the legal assault they are under from Marineland (you can help them here). Because that could lead to change for the animals, and maybe a better life for Smooshi.

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