(WSVN) - A U.S. congressman is calling for a federal investigation into an aquarium opening at a South Florida shopping mall. 7News broke the story of the controversial plan, and now more disturbing details are emerging. 7’s Brian Entin investigates.
Right now, it’s a walled-off storefront in Fort Lauderdale’s Galleria Mall, but plans are underway for a controversial new aquarium to be built here.
And protesters are trying to stop SeaQuest Interactive Aquarium from moving in.
Ken Pelton, protester: “It’s just a way to promote business at the expense of animals.”
As 7News first reported, SeaQuest has a checkered past. Former employees at the Las Vegas location said animals died there.
Protesters: “There’s no excuse for animal abuse!”
And in June, after opening a SeaQuest in Littleton, Colorado, state inspectors failed the facility. Their report said that during the inspection, there was a concern that birds in an enclosure could be stepped on, and finches “…did not have access to food and water.”
Video obtained by a TV station in Denver shows a murky tank and an employee appearing to scatter birds by swiping at them with a dustpan.
SeaQuest was also fined after investigators found they illegally imported a sloth and two capybaras into the state. The animals were kept in the basement of a manager’s house.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.: “We heard from some constituents who were concerned about what they had heard about the aquarium, and we just wanted to try to get to the bottom of it.”
South Florida Congressman Ted Deutch is so concerned about SeaQuest, he sent the U.S. Department of Agriculture a letter asking them to investigate the company.
His letter says: “This organization and its owners have a long-documented history of disregard for the law and for animal welfare.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.: “We want to make sure that they’re doing everything that they’re supposed to when they evaluate a situation like this.”
7News obtained the blueprints for the planned aquarium at the mall. They show a shark touch tank, capybara/sloth enclosure, trout/duck tank, and areas for a hedgehog, bearded dragon, pygmy goat and otters. Even what’s called a “Dr. Fish Manicure,” where baby fish nibble on your fingers.
Animal activists are not happy.
Shannon Blair, protester: “We just want to fight for them, and end this.”
Our repeated requests for an interview with SeaQuest CEO Vince Covino were turned down, but in a statement, he addressed the aquarium’s problems in Colorado: “Our company takes full responsibility for not meeting permit requirements in Littleton, and we are working closely with regulatory agencies to be fully compliant. We condemn the mistreatment of wildlife and with a professional team of experts, we adhere to strict guidelines of animal care.”
SeaQuest’s location in the Galleria Mall will be where an old department store used to be. Their website says they plan to open in November, but the city of Fort Lauderdale has not yet approved their plans. And SeaQuest has also not obtained any wildlife permits from the state.
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