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

in Theme Parks

A killer whale laying on a platform in a pool at a marine park, flanked by two trainers in wetsuits, with a blue-painted wave design on the wall behind them.

Credit: Leonardo DaSilva via Flickr

The most controversial theme park in Florida has been accused of intimidating its employees and trying to evade government inspections – just days before the date of its eviction notice.

The Sunshine State is packed with theme parks, many of which could be arguably defined as controversial. There’s Walt Disney World Resort, with its ongoing legal spat with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and SeaWorld and its years-long battle with activists in the wake of the damning documentary Blackfish (2010). Neither resort, however, is quite on the same level right now as Miami Seaquarium.

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

Related: Dolphin Committed Suicide at Florida Theme Park, Report Claims

Over the past few years, multiple investigations from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have sparked backlash for the marine theme park. Some of the most horrifying details have included a dolphin found with a nail in its throat, a sea lion denied surgery for so long that he was living in constant pain and refusing food, and dolphins being fed rotten fish. So many details stacked up over multiple inspections that the USDA even moved to confiscate some of the park’s animals, with Miami Seaquarium ultimately euthanizing one of the animals in question, Bud the sea lion, before this was possible.

Miami Seaquarium has leased the land on which it resides from Miami-Dade County since 1955, and one of the terms of its lease requires taking appropriate care of its animal residents. The county served the park – which is owned by The Dolphin Company – with an eviction notice in March, with Mayor Daniella Levine Cava declaring that it had a “long and troubling history of violations” and setting a deadline of April 21 to vacate the premises.

Dolphins perform at Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Leonardo DaSilva via Flickr

Despite this date being just days away, Miami Seaquarium continues to operate and fight its eviction notice. Last week, it provided the county with ‘proof’ that it was improving its animal care facilities. Now, however, more troubling details have emerged about the park’s operations that won’t exactly tip the scales in its favor.

NBC6 obtained a USDA inspector’s report from January alleging that the South Florida park’s management was engaging in employee intimidation and attempting to interfere with government inspections.

The report claims that inspectors arrived at the Miami Seaquarium on January 9 between 9 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. However, their mandated physical walkthrough of the park didn’t begin for another four and a half hours.

Seals at Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Miami Seaquarium

“The facility manager then said they needed to consult with their lawyers as to the inspectors’ nature of inspection and asked for copies of identification,” the report reads. “In the meantime, inspectors asked to review [the] requested paperwork, but the facility further delayed, indicating that their legal team would have to review them first. USDA had to insist to get immediate access to the records. The physical walkthrough of the facility began 4.5 hours after the inspectors’ arrival.”

Inspectors went on to claim that on the second day of the park’s inspection, Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) officials were told that The Dolphin Company required employees to record government inspections. Employees apparently also admitted that they had been told they could not be alone with the inspectors without permission – seemingly in an attempt to mitigate any negative information they may share about the park’s operations.

Tokitae the killer whale in the water next to her trainer, who puts her head near the orca's open mouth at the Florida theme park Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Isabelle Puaut via Flickr

“Staff members confided in inspectors that what they stated on camera was not the whole truth as they were not comfortable to be forthcoming with all the relevant details,” the report says. “The facility CEO stated that if the employees wanted to speak to USDA alone, the employee would have to come to management and inform them beforehand.”

The report later went on to criticize the Florida theme park for its decorum regarding inspections. “Delaying the inspection process and eliciting fear and intimidation towards facility employees interferes with APHIS officials’ abilities to assess a facility’s compliance with the Animal Welfare Act,” it says.

This isn’t the first time Miami Seaquarium has attempted to avoid criticism. It previously also took legal action against an activist who shared videos of the park’s conditions – namely the tanks containing its marine mammals – on social media.

Earlier this week, Miami-Dade County also emphasized that Miami Seaquarium is $87,916.66 behind on its rent – a fact the county has previously stressed on multiple occasions.

Trainer on orca during a show at the Florida theme park Miami Seaquarium
Credit: Isabelle Puaut via Flickr

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

Of all Miami Seaquarium’s controversies, it’s perhaps best known for its last remaining orca resident: Lolita (AKA Tokitae). At the time of her death in August 2023, she was the second-oldest killer whale in captivity (after Corky II in SeaWorld San Diego). Tokitae died just months after Miami Seaquarium announced plans to relocate her to a sea pen what was infamously nicknamed “the whale bowl,” the small tank in which she spent 43 years alone after Miami Seaquarium’s other orca, Hugo, died from self-inflicted brain damage in 1980.

Plans to free her were met with mixed responses, with some of her former trainers claiming she would be better off. more high-tech facilities, such as those at nearby SeaWorld Orlando, located just hours away from Miami Seaquarium, due to her age, frail health, and the amount of time she spent living in captivity.

When NBC6 contacted the Florida theme park for comment, they received only a brief response: “Thank you for your inquiry. In the next couple of days, we will inform the press of our progress. All our animals are well taken care of by our amazing staff.” Inside the Magic did not hear back from a request for comment by the time of publication.

Do you think Miami Seaquarium should close? Let us know in the comments!

in Theme Parks

View Comments (5)