In September 2021, a damning inspection report prepared by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was released for Miami Seaquarium. (See AWI Quarterly, winter 2021.) The report chronicled a number of extremely troubling incidents at this outdated marine theme park, including a performance-related injury to 56-year-old orca Tokitae (a.k.a. Lolita); an unusual number of marine mammals dying in less than two years; poor water quality issues; inadequate record-keeping, which resulted in incompatible individuals being housed together, leading to fights (some deadly); and, worst of all, records and interviews with staff that showed that Tokitae and other animals were fed rotting fish. Then, within a three-week period at the end of 2021, a dolphin, a harbor seal, and a manatee died.
Despite all of these disturbing developments, APHIS chose to issue the facility’s new owner a license in early March, specifically omitting Tokitae’s enclosure from the license’s jurisdiction. AWI is considering its options for responding to this unprecedented and potentially illegal decision.