The Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday approved a deal clearing the way for a new operator to take over Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key, but added several conditions to allow better monitoring of marine life at the 66-year-old tourist attraction.
Several Miami residents spoke out against the approval, hoping the County would take action to close the facility, which is often the site of protests by activists who say animals are mistreated.
“The suffering at this facility has spanned multiple owners,” said Jennifer Martinez, making reference to recent citations by federal officials, including several serious animal injuries and deaths over the last several years, federal officials said.
In June, the USDA reported that recommended actions “have been repeatedly disregarded or dismissed.” But since then, County officials wrote that 15 of 21 infractions have been corrected and the remaining items will be corrected by next month.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the County negotiated lease changes that will give local officials much more oversight over conditions. “We will aggressively monitor the health and well-being of these animals,” she said.
Dr. Magdalena Rodriguez, a Key Biscayne resident and former Seaquarium veterinarian, agreed an ownership transfer would benefit the animals. “I’m really hopeful that the new company is seeing what’s happening. I know they have extensive dolphin experience.”
Rodriguez said, however, that there should be accountability for the lapses in animal care. “It’s really good that there will be all this oversight now, but it was a bad example for the industry.”
The Seaquarium deal was announced in August, with The Dolphin Company, a large Latin American park operator headquartered in Cancun, Mexico, taking over rights to operate the historic facility from Palace Entertainment.
In a statement, The Dolphin Company said it “supports the County’s efforts to ensure further transparency and accountability at the Miami Seaquarium and to promote animal conservation and welfare.”
Commissioner Raquel Regalado, whose district includes the Biscayne Bay attraction, said the lease changes she sought will give the County information about what’s happening on the site, something that previous administrations she said had not kept track of.
Among the details: quarterly animal welfare reports and immediate copies of any report or letter from state and federal agencies.
“We are going to be provided with documentation,” she said. “The first priority will be compliance,” adding, “the focus is on the animals.”
She said with the Board’s vote, the deal is expected to finalize soon.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.