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With growing concerns about the welfare of animals at the Miami Seaquarium, Miami-Dade County told the park’s owner it is in violation of the lease for the Virginia Key tourist attraction.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Sunday sent a “notice of advisement” to The Dolphin Co., which owns Seaquarium, that the county aims to terminate the 2021 lease after reports of substandard animal care. 

The park’s iconic killer whale, Lolita, also died last August of renal disease and pneumonia.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture informed the county of repeated instances of animal welfare violations at Seaquarium that culminated in the notice to confiscate four animals – the first time in 30 years the agency has taken such a measure, according to the county’s notice of advisement.

“The welfare of these animals is paramount, and any compromise in their care is a direct contravention of our shared commitment to their well-being,” Levine Cava wrote to Seaquarium.

Eduardo Albor, CEO of the Dolphin Company, sits at table next to Miami Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announcing plans to release the killer whale Lolita back to the wild, Thursday March 30, 2023 (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Eduardo Albor, the president of The Dolphin Co., did not respond to the county’s action through a statement or – as he often does – by posting on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The County  was not informed which animals were subject to the notice of confiscation.

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Earlier this month, Seaquarium reported that the dolphin Sundance – a captive of the park for 30 years – died two days after performing in a Christmas show.  

Three manatees were shipped out in early December to the Tampa Zoo and SeaWorld Orlando after an activist used a drone to show the deteriorating conditions in their tank.

Lolita died in August, making headlines worldwide. The longest held captive orca, Lolita – also known as Tokitae – was said to be in good health by Albor and her handlers as she was getting ready to be moved to a sea pen on the Washington state coast. 

An autopsy revealed she died of renal failure and natural causes, but former trainers questioned her care in the months before her death.

The park’s Pacific white-side dolphins all were shipped out – including Li’l who was Lolita’s tank mate since the mid-1980s. 

A five-page USDA report, completed in July, cited insufficient veterinary care, animal handling, and staffing problems. 

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science April 21, 2023. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Former Seaquarium trainer Shanna Simpson said the news was bittersweet. “It breaks my heart that Miami Seaquarium and the Dolphin Company seem to not be improving their animal welfare,” she said. “I am extremely worried for the animals’ future.”

Levine Cava and Commissioner Raquel Regalado – whose district includes Key Biscayne and Virginia Key – issued a statement about the “continuous violation and poor quality of animal care” at Seaquarium.

“When this operator took control of the facility, we worked together to mandate greater accountability, and oversight of the animals,”  Levine Cava and Regalado said.

Miami-Dade County issued several “notices of default” as the violations are a breach of terms in the conditions outlined in the joint lease agreement, the statement read.

“In light of these distressing circumstances, the County is reviewing all necessary actions to pursue the termination of the Amended and Restated Lease Agreement. We believe it is imperative to address these serious violations decisively and with urgency,” Levine Cava and Regalado said.

Animal activists groups celebrated the move by the County. “Authorities must now move quickly to shut down this notorious facility, according to a statement on the website of People Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Phil Demers, the animal activist sued by Seaquarium for posting drone footage of conditions at the park, said Tuesday on X: “As per my sources, it looks like the USDA and Miami-Dade County will be looking to re-home most if not all of the Miami Seaquarium’s animals. Expect some to be taken away very soon.”

Editor’s note: This story updates the oringial version with comments from a former Miami Seaquarium trainer, activist and PETA.

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John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.