French marine park embroiled in legal action after orca whales die in storm

Whales, sharks, sea lions and turtles died at the Antibes Marineland after the park was swamped with mud in a storm

Environmental campaigners are taking legal action against Europe’s largest marine park after many of its animals, including orca whales, were killed in a recent storm.

Whales, sharks, sea lions and turtles died at Antibes Marineland after bad weather hit the Cote d’Azur on France’s Mediterranean coast in October, swamping the park with mud, AFP reports.

Valetin, a 19-year-old orca whale died of internal injuries a week after the storm left the park without electricity to pump in clean water.   

International NGO, Sea Shepherd, has lodged a legal complaint against Antibes Marineland, claiming the park mistreats its animals and has polluted the local environment.

The announcement came as at least 300 people attended a protest outside the park on Sunday, just a week after it re-opened following the storm damage, France Blue Azure reports.

Protestors argued the enclosures remain inadequate for animals and the marine life should not have been in danger from the storm in the first place. 

Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson, told reporters: “We are against the keeping of orca whales in captivity because it is simply not where they should be.”

Marineland have denied allegations of mistreatment. The park said in a statement: “The conditions of well-being of marine mammals are carefully and strictly controlled by several organisations, as well as European and international regulations.”

The park's new director, Arnaud Palu, told ITele, Marineland increases public awareness of marine life, by allowing people to see the animals in the flesh.

Sea Shepherd expects the first hearing against the park to take place in September.

The park previously underwent a preliminary investigation following complaints of animal cruelty by three French NGOs.

There has been a global backlash against keeping marine life in captivity following the 2013 release of Blackfish, an influential exposé of orca captivity at SeaWorld in the US.

Earlier this month, SeaWorld announced it is ending its controversial orca breeding programme, meaning the 24 killer whales currently at the company's theme parks in California, Texas and Florida will be the last generation of orcas at the venues.