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Miami-Dade County is moving to cancel the Miami Seaquarium’s lease on public waterfront, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a letter Sunday, warning the for-profit attraction that it needs to quickly fix problems with animal care cited by federal inspectors in recent weeks.
“The welfare of these animals is paramount,” Levine Cava wrote in the letter to Eduardo Albor, CEO of the Dolphin Company, which owns a portfolio of marine-mammal theme parks and negotiated a new lease with Miami-Dade as part of its purchase of the Seaquarium business in 2022.
“In light of these distressing circumstances,” the mayor continued, “the County is diligently reviewing all necessary actions to pursue the termination of the Amended and Restated Lease Agreement.”
Levine Cava cited federal inspectors’ string of negative reports about the Seaquarium, including a Nov. 28 report from the United States Agriculture Department’s animal-care division citing a manatee suffering from a skin condition, excessive bacteria in the sea lion pool, poor ventilation in the penguin enclosure and dolphin pools “in disrepair.”
Seaquarium representatives were not immediately available for comment, but in correspondence with Miami-Dade the theme park has denied mistreating the dolphins, sea lions and other animals at the park on Miami’s Virginia Key.
In a Jan. 5 letter to the county’s Internal Services Department, which manages the Seaquarium lease, Edwin González, an executive at the Miami Seaquarium (MSQ), offered rebuttals for multiple allegations cited by federal inspectors from the USDA in a July inspection of the facility.
“MSQ takes its compliance seriously and respectfully requested the USDA consider the additional factual and legal arguments that support the reversal” of the inspectors’ findings, he wrote.
In a joint statement with Levine Cava, Raquel Regalado, the Miami-Dade commissioner whose district includes the Seaquarium site, said the new lease gives the county more authority to take action when park animals are mistreated.
“When this operator took control of the facility, we worked together to mandate greater accountability and oversight of the animals,” the statement read. “We believe it is imperative to address these serious violations decisively and with urgency.”
In her letter to Albor, Levine Cava said the USDA has notified the Seaquarium that the agency plans to confiscate four animals at the attraction. Levine Cava’s letter offered no details, and a county spokesperson did not provide additional information on Monday afternoon.
“I’ve been informed that this confiscation is the first time in 30 years that the USDA has taken such a measure with marine mammals,” Levine Cava wrote.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the Seaquarium had been at risk of losing four animals to the agency earlier this month before the staff took steps to avoid the action.
“In response to the death of a male bottlenose dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium on December 27, 2023, APHIS conducted an inspection of the facility on January 9, 2024, citing several Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations, including a direct citation for lack of appropriate veterinary care for 25 animals,” Andre Bell, an APHIS spokesperson, said in an email.
Bell declined to release details about which Seaquarium animals were subjects of the confiscation notice.
“APHIS returned to the facility on January 17, 2024, to ensure the violations were corrected and found four of the animals were still in need of immediate veterinary care,” Bell said. “APHIS issued a notice of intent to confiscate to the facility on January 19, 2024. Miami Seaquarium took necessary corrective action to come into compliance.”