- Sponsored -
Share article

Miami Seaquarium, a fixture on Virginia Key since 1955, filed a lawsuit Friday against Miami-Dade County, asking a federal judge to block eviction. The Dolphin Company, the current owner of the park, had been told to hand over the premises on Sunday.

“It will put the brakes on the eviction proceedings that the county appears to be headed towards,” said Miami federal litigator David Weinstein.

MS Leisure Corp., the owner of The Dolphin Company, is seeking a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Becerra, who will either handle the matter herself or refer it to her magistrate.

The lawsuit comes after another animal at the park died last month. Bud, a sea lion, was euthanized. Sushi, another sea lion; Lolita, an orca whale; and Sundance, a bottlenose dolphin have died since August.

A USDA inspection report in January found that Sushi had lost 52 pounds in four months after becoming ill. Another dolphin had multiple rib fractures and another suffered from tooth erosion and eye issues. The federal inspector also noted that there was a lone veterinarian to care for Seaquarium’s 42 marine mammals, 47 birds and its numerous aquarium creatures.

Seaquarium’s veterinarian resigned in February and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on March 7 she would move ahead with evicting The Dolphin Co. from the premises and would not seek another operator for the marine park. 

“If the County closes the Seaquarium to the public, MS Leisure will be unable to employ its veterinarians, staff, or maintenance workers, which in turn, will cause the animals to suffer and likely perish,” the lawsuit argued.

- Sponsored -

The lawsuit makes some unusual federal claims, such as the eviction violates the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as a violation of MS Leisure Corp.’s First and Fifth Amendments.

The complaint also claimed Miami-Dade engaged in unfair regulatory practices, restrictive zoning and land-use policies, and breach of agreement. The Dolphin Company seeks “economic damages” due to the County’s action that caused reputational harm.

The lawsuit also cites an unnamed County employee who told Seaquarium’s executive director that the reason the park was getting so many inspections was because Levine Cava’s office “hates you.”

“Filing this lawsuit against Miami-Dade County is a step we take with heavy hearts but clear minds, driven by our duty to protect our legacy and ensure our ability to continue making positive impacts on marine conservation,” said Eduardo Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Company, in a statement.

Animal activists said Friday that the Dolphin Company has proved itself a poor steward of the animals in its care at Miami Seaquarium.

“The lives and well-being of animals have been endangered for years at Miami Seaquarium, as evidenced by countless untimely deaths and extensive welfare violations documented by the USDA. That is precisely why the Seaquarium must close immediately and the animals imprisoned there must be safely rehomed to sanctuaries,” said Chris Carraway, staff attorney at the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project.

Editor’s Notes: This story updates a previous version with details of lawsuits, quotes from The Dolphin Company and quotes from animal activists.

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

- Sponsored -

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