Laurie Rudock lays flowers at a makeshift memorial after the recent death of a captive orca, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, outside the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. . (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Editor’s note: Story has been updated with comment from Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Troubles keep mounting  for Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key. The latest is that the marine park is down to one certification to handle its animals, a violation of its lease with Miami-Dade County.

The Miami-Dade Parks Department has reached out to the Seaquarium asking to send evidence of the certifications required in the lease agreement by early next week, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s office said Friday.

“The safety and well-being of all the animals that are currently under the care of the Miami Seaquarium continue to be of utmost importance for my administration,” Levine Cava said.

“When Miami-Dade County approved the transfer of the facility’s management to the Dolphin Company, we ensured that our lease agreement included greater accountability and oversight of the animals as part of the commitments expected from the new operator.”

Levine Cava said last month Miami-Dade County would seek to terminate the 2022 lease transferred to the Dolphin Co. because of reports of substandard animal care at the nearly 70-year-old park.

The County also sent notice to Seaquarium that it owed nearly $88,000 in back rent after missing its December payment. 

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On Friday, Levine Cava said there are additionally four active “unsafe structures” cases that violate the terms of the lease agreement.  

Seaquarium made headlines worldwide after its beloved killer whale, Lolita, died while waiting to be transferred to a sea pen in Washington State. Former trainers questioned whether the care of Lolita – also known as Tokitae – led to her death of renal failure and other maladies.

The park reported the death of other animals, as well, in 2023 and transferred its Pacific white-sided dolphins and three manatees to other parks and aquariums.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released a new report on Seaquarium revealing a sea lion experiencing blindness from cataracts, rusty bird cages, mold in the penguin house, flamingos wading in dirty water and a dolphin ingesting a nail, according to WSVN-TV.

The marine park remained open to the public on Friday. 

The County’s lease transfer to the Dolphin Co. stipulates it must maintain all certifications, including the Alliance of Marine Mammals Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the American Humane Association or similar third-party program.

But on Friday only AMMPA was listed on Seaquarium’s website.

“American Humane is generally a rubber stamp from the industry, with incredibly low standards, so the conditions at Miami Seaquarium must be abysmal to lose that certification,” said Chris Carraway, staff attorney at the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at the University of Denver Law School.

American Humane did not respond to a phone message or email for comment.

Seaquarium did not respond to an email request for comment. The park did push back on Levine Cava announcement the County would move to sever the lease, saying animals were never confiscated.

Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, a division of the USDA, told the Independent it planned on removing four animals after an inspection found them “suffering” in violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Seaquarium made corrections in care and APHIS determined the animals would not have to be removed, APHIS spokesman R. Andre Bell said.

“Although the Seaquarium was recently able to avoid the confiscation of some of the animals, I remain concerned about the poor quality of animal care that has been repeatedly documented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) since last year,” Levine Cava said.

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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.