Multiple Citations Lead to Eviction Notice for Miami Seaquarium After Nearly 70 Years of Animal Cruelty

Multiple Citations Lead to Eviction Notice for Miami Seaquarium After Nearly 70 Years of Animal Cruelty

Florida’s long-troubled Miami Seaquarium has finally been ordered to close by the end of this month following a long history of animal welfare violations and the high-profile death of its lone orca Lolita, or Tokitae, last year. Let’s hope the aquarium’s challenge of the eviction order isn’t successful.

In March, Miami-Dade County served an eviction letter to the Dolphin Company, new owners of Miami Seaquarium as of roughly two years, with a requirement to vacate the premises by April 21 over violations of its lease, which was originally set to continue until 2044. This notice highlighted several animal welfare issues including deaths and significant concerns regarding the facility’s care of its marine mammals, which were documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Jimmy Morales, Miami Dade Commission’s chief operating officer stated, “The deficient and dangerous conditions that lessee has allowed to persist on the property … in many instances has resulted in injury to the animals and the animals’ ingestion of foreign materials.”

Miami Seaquarium has been the target of activists for years over its refusal to release Lolita, alternately known as Tokitae, and return her to her home waters in the Pacific Northwest. She tragically spent 53 years of her 57 years in what was dubbed “the world’s smallest orca tank” before dying last August. People all over the country mourned her and animal advocates were furious at the injustice of her sad plight. 

In Defense of Animals had been calling for Tokitae to be returned home for years. In 2016, we shamed Miami Seaquarium on our list of the 10 Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales. The tragedy of Lolita’s imprisoned life and her death can help raise awareness of the horrors of orca captivity and our obligation to fight it. We will never stop fighting for all orcas who are trapped in tanks.

Unfortunately for animals, this wasn’t the Miami Seaquarium’s only problem. It’s racked up a laundry list of USDA violations over the years, including inadequate handling of animals, inadequate veterinary care, water quality issues, failure of inadequate staffing, and insufficient maintenance of both outdoor facilities and indoor facilities.

More recent examples include dolphins with a broken metal bolt and a nail in their mouth and throat respectively, and a sea lion with eye issues who did not receive surgery and was refusing to eat. Other animal species whose members are suffering there are penguins, seals, and sharks. Mold was detected in bird enclosures and the veterinary lab was lacking fundamental diagnostic tools that should be present for animal care. Last December, three manatees were relocated following public outcry. Furthermore, the park was $180,000 behind in rent and its head veterinarian had resigned very shortly before the eviction notice was served, which was another red flag among many. 

Despite the USDA citations and notice to vacate, the owners of Miami Seaquarium have now sent a letter, dated April 4, to Morales, stating that it has taken corrective measures to improve the park’s facilities. Edwin Gonzalez, the executive director of the Dolphin Company, wrote that the management of its company "is dedicated to swiftly addressing the concerns raised in your notice, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to upholding the standards and obligations set forth in our lease agreement." He listed the company’s efforts to correct its issues, including repairing and maintaining the facilities, revamping its animal health monitoring system, increasing safety and accessibility, and instigating an environmental impact review. 

We desperately hope that the county will follow through with its plan to terminate Miami Seaquarium’s lease and not allow the company to work its way around the citations through its attempts at corrective measures. Animals have suffered there for 69 years and it’s time to put an end to this shoddy marine park and all marine parks that hold animals captive for human entertainment and profit. 

For more info and ways to help captive whales and dolphins, visit our Cetaceans campaign. 

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