Eviction Update: Florida Theme Park Refuses to Close, Continues To Sell Tickets

in Theme Parks

Trainer on orca at Miami Seaquarium

Credit: Isabelle Puaut via Flickr

A month after receiving its eviction notice – and two days after it was supposed to close down for good – the most controversial theme park in Florida continues to operate.

You could argue that there have been multiple contenders for the title of “Florida’s most controversial theme park” in recent years, thanks to Walt Disney World’s ongoing legal spats with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the constant battle that is SeaWorld vs. animal rights activists.

Tokitae killer whale and trainer at Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Isabelle Puaut via Flickr

Related: UPDATE – Florida Theme Park “Intimidates” Employees as Government-Mandated Closure Approaches

However, the title right now must surely go to Miami Seaquarium – the marine theme park that’s so determined to overlook its own missteps that it’s currently fighting a legal mandate to leave the premises.

For years, inspections from the United States Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) have picked up on concerning issues at the park. These range from issues with the maintenance of animal enclosures and bacteria-ridden water to even more alarming accusations, such as a nail found in the throat of an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin and animals being underfed as a punishment.

Most controversial of all is the park’s treatment of its former killer whale resident Lolita (AKA Tokitae). The second-oldest orca in captivity at the time of her death, Lolita died in August 2023, just months after the park promised to free her back into her native waters of the Salish Sea.

During her 53 years at Miami Seaquarium, she lived in the “Whale Bowl” – an 80-by-35-foot tank that previously held both her and a male orca named Hugo, who died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after spending years banging his head against the glass of the tank.

Seals at Florida theme park Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Miami Seaquarium

In March, Miami-Dade County put its foot down and took legal action to close the Florida theme park for good. Mayor Daniella Levine Cava revealed that the county had served Miami Seaquarium with an eviction notice due to its “long and troubling history of violations.” The park was given a deadline of April 21, 2024, to leave the premises – a date which has now come and gone, and yet Miami Seaquarium continues to operate.

Prospective visitors (of which reports claim there has been a dwindling number) are currently met on the Miami Seaquarium website with an offer that allows adults to pay the children’s price of admission until Apri 30, 2024. That means guests can visit the park for $31.99 instead of $41.99.

Tokitae performing as Lolita at Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Leonardo DaSilva via Flickr

Related: Trainers Accuse Theme Park of Killing Orca, Updates Given

According to CBS News Miami, Miami Seaquarium operated as normal on the day of its eviction deadline, during which time its reporters “saw no signs of [the park] leaving.”

The park’s stubbornness shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. On April 19 – two days before the day it was theoretically due to close – Miami Seaquarium’s owner, The Dolphin Company, filed a federal lawsuit accusing Miami-Dade County of violating its lease agreement. Its case claims that the park’s marine life will die if they’re forced to leave and that closing the Miami Seaquarium will negatively impact local tourism in South Florida.

As Inside the Magic has previously reported, the issue of relocating animals does prove to be one of the more serious complications of the Miami Seaquarium closing. While it’s possible that some may be relocated to sanctuaries, doing so is expensive – and takes a toll on the animals involved.

Man being pulled by two dolphins through the water at Florida theme park Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Miami Seaquarium

Another possibility is redistributing the animals to other, better-equipped parks in Florida (preferably those accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Dolphins, sea lions, and manatees have previously been moved from the Miami Seaquarium to the likes of SeaWorld Orlando, Zoo Miami, and ZooTampa.

The latter took in Juliet – one of the world’s oldest known manatees – in December 2023 after the USDA cited the Miami Seaquarium for insufficient animal care and neglect. Sadly, Juliet died at over 65 years old on Saturday, just four months after making the big move.

Activists continue to push for the park’s exit regardless, with PETA activist Amanda Brody telling CBS News Miami: “The public and South Florida wants to see this place closed, and we’re going to continue to show up until they stop putting animals through hell and relocate these animals to reputable facilities.”

Are you surprised that the Miami Seaquarium didn’t abide by the deadline for its eviction notice? Let us know in the comments!

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