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Miami-Dade County moves to evict Miami Seaquarium

Visitors exit the Miami Seaquarium, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Marta Lavandier
/
AP
Visitors exit the Miami Seaquarium, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Miami-Dade County has evicted the operators of the Miami Seaquarium after local officials allege the company broke its lease several times by improperly maintaining the grounds and treating the animals poorly.

The tenant, MS Leisure Company, must vacate the premises by April 21.

MS Leisure Company has received a series of notices of violations of the lease from the county in recent years. The mayor's office cited its reason for some of the notices as the company receiving frequent citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it said Thursday in a letter terminating the lease.

In response, Seaquarium officials say Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has refused invitations to visit the site.

From July 2022 to January 2024, MS Leisure Company received 27 citations from the USDA, the county said. Seven of them were for not maintaining the facilities well, seven for not providing suitable veterinary care, three for not maintaining outdoor facilities, two for not maintaining indoor facilities, three for not having adequate staff, three for not having satisfactory water quality and two for not handling the animals properly, which led to a visitor being bitten by a dolphin.

"[MS Leisure Company's] long and troubling history of violations constitute repeated, continuous and longstanding violations of [its] contractual obligations to keep the Property in a good state of repair, maintain animals in accordance with applicable law, and comply with all laws as set forth in...the Amended and Restated Lease Agreement," the county wrote.

Between the county and the USDA, MS Leisure Company received notices that several areas in the park were unsafe and not structurally sound, including enclosures for the whales, penguins, parrots, dolphins and sea lions. The issues have led to animals being injured and accidentally eating pieces of the structure that are deteriorating.

In a posting on X, the social media platform previously called Twitter, Seaquarium posted a letter it sent to Levine Cava inviting the mayor to personally visit the site and speak with animal care specialists. Speaking at a Thursday news conference, Levine Cava said representatives of the county's parks department have made regular visits to the park.

The lease in question goes back to 2000 and has been amended and extended throughout the years, with it most recently being signed in 2020.

In August, Seaquarium received backlash after Lolita the orca whale died of kidney failure days before she was supposed to be released back into this wild.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie