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Home Tourist Attraction The Seaquarium won’t go without a fight. But its time is already past

The Seaquarium won’t go without a fight. But its time is already past

by Staff

The Miami Seaquarium won’t leave without a fight.

The Dolphin Company, the Mexico-based operator of the tourist attraction that dates to the 1950s, said Monday that it’s prepared to go to court to fight a Miami-Dade County eviction notice issued last week after a string of negative federal inspections focused on animal care.

The company said the efforts to evict the theme park — which is on public land — are based on flawed information.

Perhaps that’s true. That’ll be for lawyers and judges to sort out. But the larger question is, how much will it matter in the end? The Seaquarium’s time is past.

It was once a beloved place in Miami, attracting tourists by the carload to its prime waterfront spot on the road to Key Biscayne. But that was then; this is now. The Seaquarium has become a relic in today’s South Florida, peddling a now-troubling business model: forcing animals to perform for the price of a ticket.

The death, in August, of the famous orca, Lolita, the focus of animal rights protests at the Seaquarium for many years, made the biggest headlines. The orca died of liver failure but her death, as plans were being made to move her, at long last, to her home waters off Washington state.

Lolita’s case, as troubling as it was, isn’t the main issue here, though it soured relations between operator and the county. The county eviction notice spelled it out: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited the Seaquarium seven times, between 2022 and 2024, “for failing to adequately maintain facilities [and] seven times related to inadequate veterinary care.”

The Dolphin Company acquired the lease in 2022.

During a news conference last week, a stern-faced Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the Seaquarium has until April 21 to vacate the publicly owned 38-acre property on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

“The situation is so dire we believe the termination of the lease is the way to proceed,” Levine Cava said.

This is hardly a surprise. The mayor’s administration notified the Seaquarium in late December that it planned to end the lease, following up with a letter in late January about the USDA’s comments.

As Commissioner Raquel Regalado, in whose district the Seaquarium is located, noted, the Seaquarium inspires “so much nostalgia. However, the current state of the Miami Seaquarium is not the place we visited as children and not the place we want our children to visit.”

In other words, no one wants to patronize a place where the USDA fears animals are not adequately cared for.

Among the issues the USDA has cited, according to the Herald: excessive bacteria in the sea lion pool, poor ventilation in the penguin enclosure, lack of shade for a manatee, lack of “adequately trained employees” and dolphin pools in disrepair — including a dolphin eating a piece of concrete from an aging tank.

Yes, the Seaquarium helped put Miami on the map as a tourist destination in the 1960s and ‘70s with its television ads, its connection to the Flipper TV show and as the field trip highlight of any school year. But that was a long time ago.

How long the park can remain open is unknown, as is the fate of the animals. They are the property of the company.

Keeping intelligent, social creatures like dolphins, sea lions and penguins in cramped tanks without addressing all their physical and behavioral needs is simply inhumane. Our culture has changed, as we have said in previous editorials, and Miami-Dade must change with it.

The Seaquarium is no longer a good fit for taxpayer-owned land. By terminating the lease, Miami-Dade is rightly prioritizing animal welfare over business interests, especially on public property.

The change will give Miami-Dade a chance to choose a new kind of attraction, such as a marine sanctuary or education center, something that won’t bring in inordinate amounts of traffic but has strong environmental value.

Legal fight or no, with this decision, Miami-Dade is doing the right thing.

Click here to send the letter.

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