On June 7th, Nathalie Bibeau’s documentary “The Walrus and the Whistleblower” was awarded the Rogers Audience Award during the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival’s online ceremony.

The subject of the documentary is Marineland, an amusement park and zoo in Ontario. An article from Canadian news outlet Richmond News states that Bibeau was inspired to make the documentary by the story of her brother’s friend, Phil Demers. Demers became a whistleblower after he left the animal trainer position he had held at Marineland for 12 years.

According to a Huffington Post article Demers wrote in 2012, his primary motivation for coming forward with information about the park’s mistreatment of the animals was Smooshi, a walrus with whom he formed a strong bond. He left in May of 2012 and stated that “this would prove to be my last desperate act to save the animals from the suffering that they were enduring.” As a whistleblower, he revealed that much of the mistreatment of Marineland animals seemed to stem from “a mechanical breakdown in the water disinfection units,” which led to animals becoming “adversely affected by the negligent use of chlorine added to the water.”

Bibeau’s documentary “The Walrus and the Whistleblower” covers the history of Marineland and tracks Demers’ story from trainer and devoted friend to Smooshi to vocal whistleblower of the establishment. Richmond News reports that Bibeau said, “What attracted me the most about this story was the human story behind it…not just the activist side, but even inside Marineland — what does it feel like to have the paradigm shift on you?” Although she tried consistently to involve representatives from Marineland in the project, there was never a response. Bibeau said that she ultimately wanted to “soften the edges of the battle a little bit and try to show that we actually have more things in common as humans than we have differences.”

Watch the trailer for “The Walrus and the Whistleblower” on YouTube.

Read more:

The Hollywood Reporter’s article on the award win

RealScreen’s article on the documentary

The Toronto Star’s 2012 article about the allegations against Marineland