Marineland has been charged for allegedly using dolphins and whales for entertainment purposes, an accusation the tourist attraction in southern Ontario denies.

Niagara regional police said they began an investigation in October over the park's use of cetaceans in shows.

“During the investigation, it was found that dolphins and whales were utilized for entertainment purposes during the month of August, without being authorized to do so,” the force said in a written statement.

That goes against laws passed in 2019 that made it an offence for dolphins and whales to perform - part of the federal government's anti-captivity legislation.

Marineland faces one count of using a captive cetacean for performance for entertainment purposes without authorization, police said.

The park denied the allegations.

It said the dolphins and whales are part of an educational presentation designed by experts.

“Our animal presentation contains marine mammals undertaking behaviours they exhibit in ocean environments,” Marineland said in a statement.

“These behaviours are combined with an educational script delivered by Marineland staff, providing a foundation in understanding of these important marine species.”

Marineland blamed the charge on “ideologically driven activists” who filed a police complaint.

Last Chance for Animals, a California-based animal advocacy group, said it filed a complaint in late September and an investigator working for the group gave a statement to police in late October.

“We are thrilled,” Miranda Desa, the Canadian counsel for the non-profit group, said of the charge.

Desa said the group's investigator went to Marineland on Aug. 3 and Aug. 9 and took video of dolphins and whales. She alleged dolphins were seen “doing flips, spinning, having a dolphin dance party and performing other tricks on command to music in front of a live audience.”

The organization shared footage it gave to police with The Canadian Press. It appears to show dolphins in a pool with an audience watching as the marine mammals do flips and other moves and get food from staff standing nearby.

Marineland said it will fight the charge.

“Marineland understands why ideologically driven activists would file a police complaint, and appreciates the pressure the Niagara Regional Police were put under to lay such a charge,” the park said.

“We look forward to the opportunity to defend ourselves in a court of law where the feelings of non-experts are not treated as facts and the truth prevails.”

Marineland is set to appear in court on Feb. 14, 2022.

The park said it “continues to be committed to our mission of research, education and conservation and will continue to provide world class care for the animals who call Marineland home.”

It also said Monday it has received a request from the burgeoning Whale Sanctuary Project for Marineland's lone killer whale, Kiska, and up to eight beluga whales to live in a proposed wild refuge in Nova Scotia.

“Marineland has no ideological objection to whales moving to the Whale Sanctuary Project or any facility that meets the required standards of care under Canadian Law, which also governs Marineland,” the park said in an email.

Marineland said it has visited the proposed site in a bay in Nova Scotia to conduct an assessment.

“The Whale Sanctuary Project has no funding, no facilities, no onsite employees and are proposing to operate in an environmentally toxic area,” Marineland claimed.

It said it will not be transferring any whales to the proposed project, but said if things change with the sanctuary, it would resume talks.

The Whale Sanctuary Project did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In recent years there have been an unknown number of whale deaths at Marineland.

The province's Animal Welfare Services team has had an ongoing inspection at Marineland for months with concerns over the park's water.

In early May, government inspectors said in court documents that all marine mammals at Marineland were in distress due to poor water quality.

Inspectors issued two orders to Marineland to repair the water system in the pools that house beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, sea lions and one killer whale, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press from the Animal Care Review Board, a quasi-judicial agency that deals with disputes and appeals in animal welfare cases.

On May 18, Marineland appealed the orders, emphatically denying the animals were in distress, and noting that an unknown number of whale deaths at the park were not related to the water issues.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2021.