Miami Seaquarium

Miami Seaquarium: Nail Found in Dolphin’s Throat in Latest USDA Report



It’s clear that Miami Seaquarium can not care for the animals forced to live at its venue.

A two-inch nail was found in the throat of a dolphin named Ripley in a Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) tank, according to a latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report obtained by World Animal Protection US. 

Another dolphin, Bimini, was observed with a broken bolt in her mouth. 

Bimini was also cited in a USDA report published last November stating the 23-year-old dolphin had multiple rib fractures in various stages of healing documented during a CT scan in February. The USDA determined these injuries were likely caused by “conspecific aggression” from other animals in her tank. 

In addition to more foreign objects found and repeated violations of water quality and animal handling, animals have continued to die at the venue. 

A 20-year-old sea lion, Sushi, was euthanized on January 16, 2024 a close source familiar with the venue told World Animal Protection this week. Sushi needed corrective eye surgery, but no surgeries could be done because the anesthesiologist and the surgeon had not been paid. Ultimately, cancer was found in Sushi, which disqualified her from any eye surgery necessary, and the venue euthanized her. 

Liz Cabrera Holtz, Senior Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection US said in a statement:  

“Another shocking inspection report from the USDA sheds further light on the severity of animal suffering at the dilapidated Miami Seaquarium. In the fall, Sushi, a female sea lion, began having eye problems that required surgery. MSQ failed to schedule the procedure even as Sushi’s health declined further. Two weeks later, Sushi began refusing to eat due to the pain, but at the time of the inspection. the surgery had still not been scheduled. A close source familiar with the venue confirms that Sushi was euthanized in January.” 

The callous disregard for Sushi’s wellbeing is only the tip of the iceberg. The report notes that a cabinet of medical supplies was covered with ants, a dolphin named Zo was kicked in the mouth by a guest, a dolphin named Ripley had hazardous materials in his throat, and the facility was lacking many devices necessary for medical emergencies—leaving animals without meaningful veterinary care. Every single animal at MSQ is in serious danger. We urge Miami-Dade County to swiftly shut this horror show down.”  

A History of Bodily Harm

This isn’t the first time animals have been observed with foreign objects in their bodies at Miami Seaquarium. Due to the dilapidated nature of the venue, the USDA noted in its report published in November that peeling paint had been found in the penguin enclosures.  

Elelo, a pacific white-sided dolphin, was specifically noted as having undergone treatment for foreign body ingestion, and seven months after that treatment and recommendation by the attending veterinarian to transfer him to another facility, the venue still had not done so, keeping Elelo at “repeated risk of foreign body ingestion.” 

Latest Deaths

Sushi is the latest animal to have passed away—due to neglect of her health issues—but she isn’t the only publicly known animal to have passed away in the past few months. Sundance, a dolphin forced to perform at Miami Seaquarium’s Christmas show, died two days later following health issues leading him to stop eating. 

What’s even more shocking? The November USDA inspection stated “the attending veterinarian has concerns that several dolphins (Ripley, Panama, Onyx, and Sundance) are showing signs of gastric distress.” Miami Seaquarium was informed that Sundance was having health concerns, yet forced him to perform until just before his death anyway. 

Tokitae, called “Lolita” by Miami Seaquarium, died on August 18, 2023 after 52 years in captivity, suffering in the smallest orca tank in North America. 

In July 2023, Luna, a captive-bred bottlenose dolphin, died just shy of her 21st birthday. Luna suffered from scoliosis, yet guests to the venue have claimed they’ve been able to hug her and ride on her back. 

Repeated Violations 

The USDA inspector noted several critical violations had been unresolved since the latest visit to the venue. 

These include, but are not limited to: 

  • The metal frame around the glass of the penguin enclosure is rusted and breaking off, causing sharp edges that can lead to injuries. 
  • The penguin enclosure has several areas where paint is peeling from the walls and ceiling, with crumbling drywall breaking off near the water fixture. 
  • The parrot trailer in use has damaged cages from the birds chewing through the metal bars, and strips of paint are peeling off the ceiling. 
  • Clarity the manatee has been observed with a progressive skin condition, including patchy white discolorations around her nostrils, mouth, and face, in addition to her front flippers, ventral abdomen, and axillary region. She has not received appropriate treatment or diagnosis due to lack of appropriate facilities. 
  • The attending veterinarian noted they suspect several dolphins may have ulcers and possible foreign bodies, but was unable to perform an endoscopy because the venue had not provided them with an endoscope along other appropriate facilities, equipment, and services necessary to perform diagnostic tests. 
  • The medicinal pool in Dolphin Harbor has a section of concrete broken, which could potentially harm the dolphins in that pool.  
  • The bacteria counts for sea lion enclosures have been excessively high, posing health risks to the animals in the enclosures. 
  • There is poor drainage in the flamingo enclosure where the ground has eroded. Bacteria counts in the flamingo pools have also been a concern. 
  • The venue continues to have a lack of appropriately trained personnel in their Veterinary Care department. A single veterinarian is employed to care for 46 marine mammals, 50 birds, hundreds of fish, sharks, and rays. This had led to a number of routine physical exams having to be postponed since March of 2023. 

We’re unsure how this venue hasn’t been shut down already, but it’s clear that Miami Seaquarium doesn’t care about its animals—or its staff, as it can’t even provide the tools or hire enough staff to allow them to perform their jobs to the best of their ability.

The Miami Mayor’s Response

On January 22, 2024, a letter from the Miami-Dade County Mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, was sent to the Miami Seaquarium regarding her intentions to terminate the lease of the Virginia Keys venue. Mayor Levine Cava has cited the USDA’s concerns over the mistreatment of animals and repeated violations of animal welfare by the Dolphin Company (Miami Seaquarium’s parent company) as her reasoning: 

“Despite these infractions, the Lessee has failed to promptly rectify these matters, culminating in the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Confiscate four animals by the USDA. I’ve been informed that this confiscation is the first time in 30 years that the USDA has taken such a measure with marine mammals.” 

Miami-Dade Commissioner for District 7, Raquel Regalado, whose district includes Virginia Keys, issued a joint statement with Mayor Levine Cava on Monday, stating the following: 

“Our priority is not keeping the Seaquarium open, our priority is ensuring that the animals are safe.” 

World Animal Protection encourages the Mayor and USDA to act swiftly in closing the dilapidated doors of Miami Seaquarium as animals continue to suffer for the Dolphin Company’s profits.

What You Can Do

Since 2019, World Animal Protection US has been protesting Miami Seaquarium’s use of wild animals for entertainment as just one example of how an entire exploitative industry harms animals for profit, and now we need your help. No wild animals belong in captivity but together, we can end this cruel industry. 

Take action now by adding your name to our petition demanding the venue be closed down and animals freed from Miami Seaquarium’s care. 

Then, after you’ve signed, send it to 5 friends to sign, too!

Act Now

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