Miami evicts Seaquarium after the death of Lolita the Orca

Lolita the Orca

Trainer Marcia Hinton pets Lolita, a captive orca whale, during a performance at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, March 9, 1995. Nuri Vallbona/Miami Herald via AP, File

The Miami Seaquarium, an old-Florida style tourist attraction that was home to Lolita, the beloved Orca that died last year, is being evicted from the waterfront property it leases from Miami-Dade County.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava cited a “long and troubling history of violations” in a lease termination notice sent Thursday to the chief executive officer of The Dolphin Company, which owns the Seaquarium. The company was told to vacate the property by April 21, according to the letter from the mayor’s office.

“They have been the subject of continuous violations, including decaying animal habitats, lack of veterinary staff and a lack of other experienced staff,” Levine Cava said during a news conference Thursday.

“Our number one priority continues to be the safety and wellbeing of the animals,” the mayor said.

Seaquarium officials sent a letter last month to Levine Cava, inviting her to visit the park so she could witness the animals’ wellbeing for herself. The county had advised the park in January that they were looking to terminate the park’s lease following a review from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the treatment and care of captive animals.

Eduardo Albor, CEO of The Dolphin Company, showed up at the news conference and told reporters he doesn’t understand why the mayor has refused invitations to the Seaquarium.

“How can she say that she’s concerned about the animals when she has never come to the Miami Seaquarium in two years,” he asked.

Levine Cava said during the news conference that representatives of the county’s parks department have regular visits to the park over the past year and a half.

“The current state of the Miami Seaquarium is unsustainable and unsafe,” Levine Cava said.

The Seaquarium could still fight the eviction. A judge would need to declare the park in compliance with their lease.

Albor said Thursday that he plans to let his lawyers respond to the eviction notice.

“I will just let my lawyers defend our rights. I will just let our lawyers defend our rights because it is offensive to speak about my people,” Albor said.

The action follows a series of federal inspections that found multiple problems at the Seaquarium, including unsafe and structurally deficient buildings.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s reports since 2022 also consistently identified that several structures have not been maintained properly, and that creates dangerous conditions and in many cases have resulted in injury,” the mayor said.

The Dolphin Company, based in Mexico, had agreed to help move Lolita to a natural sea pen in the Pacific Northwest when it took over ownership of the Seaquarium in 2022. Lolita, also known as Tokitae, or Toki, died Aug. 18, at age 57.

Animal rights activists had sought Lolita’s freedom for years. The orca spent much of her life in tank a that measures 80 feet by 35 feet (24 meters by 11 meters) and is 20 feet (6 meters) deep, and stopped performing in shows at the Seaquarium in 2022.

A coalition that included Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay worked on the plan to move Lolita back to the Pacific Northwest.

A necropsy cited kidney failure as the cause of Lolita’s death. The necropsy also found Lolita suffered from acute and chronic bronchointerstitial pneumonia and renal degeneration, as well a chronic condition of the heart implying the degeneration of the cardiac valves.

“At long last, authorities are taking action against the persistent animal welfare violations at Miami Seaquarium,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, senior scientist in marine mammal biology for the Animal Welfare Institute’s Marine Life Program. “This run-down facility has been a blight on Miami for too long. We hope the zoo and aquarium community steps up to the plate to ensure all of the animals — the mammals, birds, fish — find acceptable homes in U.S. facilities.”

The Seaquarium opened in 1955 overlooking Biscayne Bay and was among the first theme parks devoted to marine life. It garnered international attention in the 1960s when the television series “Flipper” was filmed there.


Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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