Despite the April 21 deadline set by Miami-Dade County for the termination of Miami Seaquarium’s lease, the iconic marine attraction’s doors remained open on Sunday, fueling apprehension among activists and animal welfare groups. Demonstrators from organizations such as SoFlo Animal Rights, PETA, and World Animal Protection converged outside the Seaquarium, demanding its closure in light of alarming revelations from USDA inspections.

Alarming USDA Findings Prompt Calls for Action

Recent USDA reports unveiled disturbing findings regarding animal welfare at the Seaquarium. These findings include instances of inadequate treatment, lack of proper care, and untreated injuries among the facility’s marine inhabitants. Of particular concern was the case of Bud the sea lion, whose deteriorating health and lack of veterinary resources resulted in euthanasia, as confirmed by the Seaquarium following the release of the USDA report.

County Officials Express Intent to Act

Miami-Dade County officials, led by Mayor Danella Levine Cava and Commissioner Raquel Regalado, voiced their determination to take decisive action if the Dolphin Company, the Seaquarium’s owner, failed to comply with the lease termination. They emphasized the urgency of establishing a task force comprising veterinary and marine experts to evaluate the animals’ medical conditions and ensure their welfare.

Activists Propose Humane Solutions

“There needs to be a task force of veterinarians and marine biologists that goes in to take stock of the animals and assess their medical conditions,” said Spencer Roberts, a marine biologist at the Rosenstiel Marine Lab. “The last thing we’d want to happen is animals get needlessly euthanized.”

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In response to the plight of the Seaquarium’s animals, activists advocated for humane solutions, including converting the facility into a sanctuary or relocating its inhabitants to facilities with higher care standards. They emphasized the need to prioritize the welfare of the animals and discontinue their exploitation for entertainment purposes.

“They don’t have to perform anymore or earn their keep,” said Holly, an organizer of a weekly demonstration at the Seaquarium. “They can just be cared for medically and cherished and not be treated as objects.”

Legal Battle Ensues as Uncertainty Looms

Meanwhile, the Dolphin Company, which operates the Miami Seaquarium, initiated a federal lawsuit against the county, alleging unfair treatment, zoning constraints, and breach of lease agreement. Despite reaffirming its commitment to surmounting challenges with the county’s support, the Seaquarium’s future remains uncertain. Legal experts anticipate potential formal eviction proceedings should the Dolphin Company fail to comply with the lease termination, underscoring the gravity of the situation.

Miami Seaquarium: A Legacy Marred by Controversy

Founded 66 years ago as a pioneering marine attraction, Miami Seaquarium has garnered both acclaim and criticism throughout its storied history. Initially hailed as the world’s largest marine facility upon its 1955 inauguration, the Seaquarium has since transitioned into a hub for marine conservation efforts, including its designation as one of Florida’s four manatee Critical Care Facilities. However, recent USDA inspections have cast doubt on the institution’s purported commitment to conservation and animal care.

Systemic Issues Highlighted by USDA Inspections

In the wake of the July 17, 2023, USDA inspection report, concerns had been raised regarding systemic issues plaguing the Seaquarium. Failures to address distressed marine life, inadequate veterinary care equipment, and deficiencies in employee training have underscored the pressing need for remedial action. Previous inspections in July 2022 and June 2021 further unveiled a pattern of neglect, with dolphins suffering from malnutrition, aggression, and substandard living conditions. These revelations underscore the imperative of addressing systemic deficiencies to safeguard the well-being of the Seaquarium’s marine inhabitants.