Miami-Dade puts Seaquarium on notice: 45 days to make fixes cited in federal report

Weeks after federal inspectors faulted the Miami Seaquarium for a dolphin eating a piece of concrete from an aging tank, the marine park’s landlord, Miami-Dade County, is demanding repairs in order for the attraction to keep its lease.

The county’s Parks department sent the Seaquarium’s owner, the Dolphin Company, a notice of default on Wednesday, giving the Virginia Key attraction 45 days to fix the issues cited in a July 17 inspection report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that recently became public.

READ MORE: Seaquarium cited for staffing, animal safety issues in latest federal inspection report

Signed by Perry Perez, a county contracts manager, the letter was sent “to formally advise the Seaquarium of its failure to comply with applicable law and to secure immediate remediation of the violations cited in the USDA’s Inspection Report.”

A Seaquarium representative was not immediately available for comment.

Aerial view of the Miami Seaquarium, which rents its waterfront site in Miami from Miami-Dade County.
Aerial view of the Miami Seaquarium, which rents its waterfront site in Miami from Miami-Dade County.

The county letter notes the USDA cited violations of federal regulations involving animal care and how facilities housing captive animals should be maintained. Violating federal rules also violates the terms of Miami-Dade’s lease with the Seaquarium, according to the letter.

The county letter doesn’t detail which violations need to be fixed to be in compliance with the lease for the 38-acre waterfront site that the Dolphin Company took over in 2021 when it bought the Seaquarium business.

In the July report, USDA inspectors faulted the Seaquarium for a dolphin that ingested a piece of concrete from a tank that needed maintenance, the lack of shade for a captive manatee and vacant veterinarian positions.

The Seaquarium has continued operations, charging admission with prices starting at $34 for young children and $44 for older kids and adults.

Opened in 1955, the Seaquarium rents its site from the county for an average payment of about $2.5 million a year, according to a 2021 summary by Miami-Dade.

When the Dolphin Co. won County Commission permission to takeover the lease that year, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the revised agreement would bring stricter county oversight when it came to animal care.

Miami-Dade’s building inspectors have also cited the Seaquarium for multiple violations of county code with its aging sea-mammal tanks and surrounding infrastructure, including the pool that housed Lolita, the killer whale that died on Aug. 18.

Levine Cava’s administration backed an agreement by the Dolphin Company to move Lolita to a sea pen on the Pacific Coast at some point, but the effort was still in the planning stages when the orca died.