VIRGINIA KEY, FLA. (WSVN) - Officials with the Miami Seaquarium said they are still open for business, speaking out for the first time since Miami-Dade County’s decision to end its lease with the company.
The seaquarium on Wednesday released a statement following the county’s decision, which was made due to animal welfare issues documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the news release, the seaquarium clarified information regarding the allegations against them.
“As confirmed by the USDA, Miami Seaquarium is in compliance with federal Animal Welfare Act regulations. It’s important to clarify that, there was no confiscation, and MSQ’s professional staff continues to care for its animals with the same passion, knowledge and dedication they do every day,” the statement read in part. “Despite maintaining open and direct communication with Miami Dade County, MSQ was never asked by our landlord to confirm such information.”
The statement went on to announce that improvements have been made to the seaquarium’s animal care programs as requested by the USDA after the governmental department found multiple violations and poor animal care on Nov. 28.
The aquarium statement went on to say the county misused information they claimed to have received from the USDA regarding animal health issues.
Officials of the seaquarium expressed their disappointment with Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava as she and her team never reached out to the seaquarium to confirm the accuracy of the information before making it public.
“We appreciate Mayor Levine’s interest in the well-being of our animals and will continue to welcome her and her staff to Miami Seaquarium to see firsthand the high standards of animal care we hold as professionals in animal care and to clarify any questions or concerns,” read the Miami Seaquarium’s press release.
The facility had been under scrutiny for several months following the deaths of Lolita the killer whale, Sundance the dolphin, and the removal of three elderly manatees. Additionally, Li’i the Pacific white-sided dolphin was transferred to SeaWorld San Antonio after Lolita’s passing.
After the deaths of the aquatic mammals, animal activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demanded changes in the Miami Seaquarium.
“We know captivity kills. Over 100 other dolphins have already died at the Seaquarium, and these remaining surviving dolphins desperately need protection,” said Amanda Brody, a senior campaigner for PETA, in an interview following the death of Sundance.
The USDA said its Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service cited several animal welfare violations, including a lack of appropriate care for 25 animals in the facility.
This month, the USDA released a statement that said, “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.”
Val Greene, who worked as a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando from 2005 to 2016, told 7News Tuesday that she wondered how the Miami Seaquarium can operate following all the allegations against the park.
“I worked at SeaWorld Orlando with the animals there for 11 years, and we took USDA compliance very seriously,” she said. “The fact that the USDA can come into a park like the Miami Seaquarium and document starvation of animals, feeding animals rotten fish, inadequate veterinary care, and still just the Miami Seaquarium is open for business is shocking.”
Miami Seaquarium officials said they remain open to the public and are operating under the lease agreement with Miami-Dade County as officials with the county work with the USDA to chart the most appropriate course forward.
During her State of the County address, Wednesday evening, Levine Cava commented on the matter.
“It is a lease that was negotiated with some additional protections based on my administration. The previous lease did not have those,” she said. “We have been working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to track the concerns that they’ve expressed. They’ve issued numerous reports. They have not taken animals, removed animals, but they still have various concerns that we are tracking.”
District 7 Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado did not immediately respond to 7News’ request for comment.
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