Friday, April 9, 2010

History of WEM Animals

In 1983, Rubin Stahl, one of West Edmonton Mall's chief promoters, proposed an idea to the Ghermezian brothers, who own the mall. He spoke of a vision which included a dazzling artificial lake, complete with submarines and killer whales. In 1985, Phase III of the mall opened its doors. Within this new segment lay a concrete tank, and whilst no killer whales were to be found, four bottlenose dolphins were. The two pairs had been caught off the coast of Florida and put into captivity in chilly Edmonton. Thus began the story of confined exotic animals within the walls of the biggest shopping centre in North America.

Nader (left) and Don Ghermezian

Despite much controversy surrounding animal cruelty, the dolphins, named Howard, Gary, Mavis, and Maria were subjected to great stress over the span of their twenty year stay. Constant noise, bright lights, and an undersized tank were factors in producing unhealthy dolphins. "In the wild, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins live 35 to 55 years. In captivity, their life-spans are much shorter, 17 to 20 years of age" (Edmonton Journal, 2008). This fact perpetuated itself as Maria died at the age of 19, who had the ill-fated habit of swallowing coins that were tossed in the tank. She had had two calves in the past, and Mavis three. All were stillborn or died soon after birth. Maria's mate Gary died in 2001, at age 20. Shortly afterwards, subsequent to losing her third calf, Mavis "lost her bubbly, joyful nature. She refused to eat for an extended period of time" (Edmonton Journal, 2008). Unable to recover from her malnutrition and apparent depression, she died in July of 2003. The death of the three dolphins brought about a sudden push for the release of Howard, the final dolphin. In May of 2004, even though keepers were afraid for his life due to his lack of strength and body mass, Howard was secretly transported via private jet to a saltwater lagoon park, in the Florida keys. He died a year later in May of 2005 (Edmonton Journal, 2008). Tove Reece of Edmonton's Voice for animals stated that the move was long overdue, and that it was "sad to look at this pool and think that we'd imprisoned four dolphins for this long. And for what? To entertain some jaded shoppers." (Edmonton Journal, 2008) Now, the 'Dolphin's Lagoon' has been turned into the 'Sea Lion's Rock', showcasing three sea lions (a fourth sea lion died whilst being transported to West Edmonton Mall). Furthermore, where flamingos once used to reside, now live two sloths. The flamingos, due to losing their pink hue from being fed inappropriately, have temporarily been integrated in a breeding program in Winnipeg.

Today: Sea Lion Cove

1985-2004: Dolphin Lagoon

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