Miami Seaquarium hit with eviction lawsuit

Miami-Dade County wants to kick out operator for alleged mistreatment of sea animals and crumbling structures at Virginia Key landmark attraction

Miami Seaquarium Hit With Eviction Lawsuit

A photo illustration of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava along with the Miami Seaquarium (Getty)

After nearly 70 years in Virginia Key, Miami Seaquarium is a step closer to getting the boot from its longtime home.

Miami-Dade County on Tuesday filed an eviction lawsuit against the affiliate of Miami-based Dolphin Company that owns the landmark marine mammal attraction at 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway. 

Under the direction of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, county officials had warned Dolphin Company that eviction proceedings were imminent over alleged building code violations and alleged incidents of substandard animal care, including the deaths of marine mammals in captivity. Last year, Tokitae, also known as Lolita, a killer whale that was Miami Seaquarium’s biggest draw, died in her tank from apparent renal failure, published reports state. 

Miami Seaquarium has a ground lease with Miami-Dade, which owns the land underneath the 38-acre theme park along the waterfront. Dolphin Company acquired Miami Seaquarium in 2022. 

In the complaint filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, county officials allege Dolphin Company is in default of the lease agreement by failing to maintain Miami Seaquarium in a good state of repair and clean condition. The lawsuit also alleges that the theme park’s owner failed to take care of Miami Seaquarium animals in accordance with the federal Marine Mammal Act and Animal Welfare Act. 

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In a statement along with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado, whose district includes Miami Seaquarium, Levine Cava said, “It’s time to turn the page on a new chapter as we remain committed to the health and wellbeing of these animals.”

Dolphin Company has five days to respond to the county’s lawsuit. In April, the Miami Seaquarium operators sued Miami-Dade after receiving the county’s default notice in a preemptive strike against eviction proceedings. 

In a statement, Dolphin Company officials accused county officials of filing a “baseless and politically motivated lawsuit, which jeopardizes the welfare of all species under our care.”

In recent months, Miami Seaquarium has implemented measures to fix substandard animal care documented by investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, which handles Animal Welfare Act complaints, according to the Dolphin Company statement. 

“Mayor [Levine Cava] and Commissioner Regalado have completely ignored our company’s federal licenses and the commendable work of our staff,” the Dolphin Company statement said. “They claim to prioritize animal welfare, yet have not personally visited the Miami Seaquarium to observe the animals or to receive reports directly from our caretakers.” 

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