MIAMI – More fallout after a new scathing USDA inspection report on the Miami Seaquarium, accusing staff of deliberately underfeeding dolphins, causing those dolphins to become aggressive with both trainers and members of the public.
Now, Miami-Dade County is stepping up, saying more oversight is needed and is coming to the popular South Florida venue.
“I’m very alarmed,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, reacting to the newly released report. “Now we realize we must do more. We must be more aggressive in our oversight.”
That USDA inspection report on the Seaquarium detailed incidents of food deprivation, saying: “with diets being drastically cut for nine dolphins at the park so that the dolphins would perform better for guest interactions.”
The mayor said this is unacceptable.
“Clearly as the landlords of this property we don’t want to have anything where the animals are suffering or where there are risks,” she said.
Miami-Dade County is the lease holder of the Seaquarium, which since March has been operated by new owners The Dolphin Company.
The violations listed in the report occurred between March and June of this year, when The Dolphin Company had already taken over.
It also details multiple incidents of aggression by the dolphins on trainers and members of the public, with dolphins mouthing guests, hitting them with their fluke and ramming trainers in deep water, like an incident caught on video by a tourist back in April who saw a dolphin go rogue during a show and attack a trainer.
Dr. Naomi Rose is a marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute, says what makes this report most egregious is that it comes just 10 months after a June 2021 USDA inspection report that first accused the Seaquarium of underfeeding animals and gross neglect resulting in the deaths of two dolphins.
“We’re appalled,” said Rose. “It’s even worse in many ways, because they were starving the dolphins and they lost an enormous amount of weight, and that’s simply not acceptable.”
The Seaquarium responded to the report, saying the reason trainers cut some of the diets by up to 60 percent is because training curators thought the dolphins were overweight.
“And they did determine that some of them were overweight, and adjusted diets,” said Patrick Pearson, General Manager of Miami Seaquarium.
Rose also pushed back on claims Seaquarium veterinarians had no idea the diets were being cut and never approved it. She says that’s not only hard to swallow, but that’s also against the law.
“They were emaciated. I was horrified,” she said. “There is no way that the training staff, regardless of how grossly obese the dolphins might have been, which I would argue they were not, would put them on a diet without consulting with the veterinarians. And that’s illegal under the law.”
The Animal Welfare Institute also accusing management at the Seaquarium of violating the marine Mammal Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act, and is considering taking legal action.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County is finalizing its lease agreement with The Dolphin Company this week and will insist on more oversight and active participation by the county’s parks and recreation department.
Read the USDA inspection