12/20/2012 01:40 EST

Marineland Mass Graves The Target Of Provincial Inspection: Reports

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Female orca Wikie swims with her calf born by artificial insemination on April 19, 2011 at Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes. Born on March 16, the two metre long baby weighing 150 kilos hasn't yet been called. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

Months after Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, was accused of mistreating animals, the province’s environment ministry is launching an investigation into four reported mass graves on the water park’s property.

Two of the graves contain the remains of at least 1,000 animals, former Marineland animal supervisor Jim Hammond told the Toronto Star.

The Niagara Bullet News reports inspectors from the ministry descended on Marineland facilities Thursday for a site inspection that will “gather information” about the graves.

The graves reportedly contain dolphins, sea lions, seals, walruses and whales, as well as land animals including bears, bison and deer, the Star reported.

There have been allegations from Marineland staffers in recent years that the park operates an animal mass grave, but the ministry’s move appears to be the first time the allegations have been taken seriously.

Marineland did not deny the allegations in communications with the Star.

“Here at Marineland we have the greatest respect for the beautiful animals in our care in both life and death,” spokesperson Ann Marie Rondinelli wrote in an email. “Their remains are dealt with respectfully and in methods as prescribed by the law.”

However, the legality of the graves is under some question, as the park apparently does not have the necessary permits to dispose of animal corpses.

In news reports this past summer, Marineland employees alleged systematic neglect of animals at the theme park. The allegations focused on water quality, with some staffers saying animals were getting sick because of chemical water treatment. Walruses and sea lions were said to be suffering from eye irritation, and dolphins were said to be shedding skin in large chunks.

Marineland denied the allegations, and an investigation by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums found no ”major issues” at the facility.

We take care of the animals — better than I would take care of myself,” park owner and founder John Holer told the media.

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