After troubling report, county gives Miami Seaquarium 45 days to fix ‘specific violations’

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces sent a letter to the Miami Seaquarium on Wednesday in the wake of a Local 10 News report documenting the troubling findings outlined in the USDA’s most recent inspection report.

In the letter, the county told Seaquarium leadership that, “The County has determined that the Seaquarium is in violation” of its lease agreement with the county, adding that the USDA, citing “specific violations…..are violations of the Seaquarium’s contractual obligations to maintain animals in accordance with federal laws and regulations and applicable law.”

Miami-Dade County is giving the Seaquarium 45 days to remedy the violations. It’s not yet clear what would happen if the Seaquarium fails to do so.

In the USDA’s inspection report, a variety of facility failures are enumerated to include failure to provide proper equipment or services to ensure adequate veterinary care, failure to maintain a sufficient number of adequately trained employees, and repeated failures to maintain a marine mammal enclosure in good repair and protect the animals from injury.

One dolphin was found to have multiple rib fractures while another, which has since been transferred to a different facility, was found to have ingested a zip tie, broken plastic and a large piece of cement.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces said:

“Miami-Dade County shares the community’s concerns for the well-being of the animals entrusted to the Seaquarium’s care and is taking action in response to the USDA report findings from their July inspection.

Upon being notified of these findings, the Miami-Dade County Parks Department ordered a review of the lease agreement with the Miami Seaquarium, resulting in the issuance of a notice of default to The Dolphin Company, the lessee responsible for the facility. This notice of default was a direct response to the various sections of their lease that were found to be in violation, including those related to the applicable laws governing the health and welfare of marine animals.

In accordance with the terms of the lease agreement, the lessee is granted a 45-day window to rectify these defaults. Additionally, the County is actively exploring any alternative options that may be available within the boundaries of the law.

Miami-Dade County expects that the reported violations related to the health and care of marine animals are addressed with the utmost seriousness to ensure that the marine animals at the Seaquarium receive the highest standard of care possible.”

Miami-Dade County Spokesperson

The USDA says it has initiated enforcement action.

In a statement to Local 10 News, a USDA spokesperson said, “APHIS takes its mission to ensure the humane treatment of animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) very seriously.”

Back in August, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago told Local 10 News it responded to an urgent need to provide sanctuary to two dolphins from the Miami Seaquarium that were living in insufficient environmental conditions.

The transport happened under NOAA authorization.

A necropsy for beloved orca Lolita documented that she died of old age and multiple chronic illnesses, yet just two days before her death, The Dolphin Company’s CEO posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Lolita was “in the best health condition on record for years.”

After the 45 days expire, the letter states, “The County retains the option to exercise all available remedies pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Amended and Restated Lease Agreement, and reserves all its rights under the Amended and Restated Lease Agreement.”

According to the county, those remedies can include termination of the lease, and if such an event were to take place, the county would reserve the right to determine the next steps, which could include potential engagement with new operators.

Local 10 News has also reached out to The Dolphin Company for a statement, but have not received one at the time of this story’s publishing.

Read Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces’ letter to the Miami Seaquarium below:

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."