Miami Seaquarium

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Decades of Dolphin Exploitation

Miami Seaquarium is a dolphinarium in Miami, Florida that opened in 1955. Over the decades of operation, the facility has been cited for numerous animal welfare issues relating to their captive dolphins and whales.

Lolita (also known as Tokitae) was the last surviving orca of the infamous Penn Cove captures of 1970. After capture, she was shipped to Miami Seaquarium where she remained until her death on August 18, 2023. Lolita remained captive at the facility in the smallest orca tank in North America for over 50 years, and had not seen another orca in 40 years after her companion Hugo died in 1980. Miami Seaquarium had been promising to build Lolita a new tank since 1978. Despite Lolita being 20 feet long, her tank was only 80 feet across. Her exposure to the sun and weather violated Section 3.103(3)(b) of the Animal Welfare Act. Her tank was also 13 feet shorter than what was required by the Animal Welfare Act (Section 3.104).

An Alarming History

Miami Seaquarium reports the cause of death for their marine mammals to National Marine Fisheries Service as required by federal law. To date, at least 120 dolphins and whales have died under the facility’s care.

Causes of Dolphin Deaths

  • died during transfer
  • drowned (tangled in cables)
  • brain aneurysm- after an orca named Hugo repeatedly bashed his head into the
  • tank walls
  • digestive tract blocked by foreign object
  • skin cancer- likely due to lack of shade
  • shock of transport between tanks
  • killed by another animal
  • parasitic infection
  • sepsis from a collision
  • trauma
  • drowning due to entrapment in pool fencing

In 2021, an APHIS Inspection Report stated that:

  • The Training Curator dropped Lolita/Tokitae’s fish diet by 30 pounds (160 to 130), ignoring the Attending Veterinarian’s (AV) objection
  • The AV was concerned Lolita/Tokitae was not getting enough water and that the Training Curator added fast swims and large jumps into training suggestions despite her abnormal bloodwork. This resulted in over-exertion and an injury to her lower jaw.
  • Injuries to her lower mandible were indicated in her medical records Feb. 25th, Mar 10th, Mar 31st, and Apr 6th and 7th of 2021
  • More on the report can be read here.

In December 2021, in response to the recent APHIS Inspection Report, a federal probe was launched, delaying the facility’s lease change to The Dolphin Company.

Throughout 2019 and 2020, the facility had multiple deaths listed as trauma related:

  • A bottlenose dolphin named Echo died of “cervical (neck) trauma” believe to be from a tank mate.
  • Another bottlenose dolphin named Indigo was also believed to have been killed in an altercation with a tank mate overnight since, according to staff, there had been “a change in social structure.”
  • Abaco, a third bottlenose dolphin, died after becoming trapped in between the fenceline of two pools.
  • A female sea lion died due to injuries “consistent with acute cervical/head trauma.”

In 2017, during Hurricane Irma, Miami Seaquarium staff completely abandoned the facility altogether, leaving the animals to fend for themselves. One dolphin died when Irma made landfall, another died four days after the hurricane hit.

In 2015, Lolita (Tokitae) was formally recognized as an endangered animal. The wild captures conducted for dolphinariums have contributed to the endangered status of the wild population she was taken from- the southern resident orcas.

In 2014, the aquarium was fined $7,000 for allowing trainers to work with orcas without sufficient protections. They reportedly worked with Lolita (Tokitae) without a physical barrier.

In 2003, Miami Seaquarium had to fix dozens of violations noted by building and fire officials who threatened to shut down the facility.

In 1980, captive orca Hugo died of a brain aneurysm after repeatedly smashing his head into his tank walls. His death also marked the last time Lolita (Tokitae) saw another orca.

graphic with text on Hugo the orca's death at Miami Seaquarium

In 1970, Lolita (Tokitae) arrived at Miami Seaquarium after being violently captured from Penn Cove, in Washington State.

How You Can Help

Please contact each agency below and strongly request that action be taken to ensure public safety at the Miami Seaquarium. Ask why Dade County Building and Zoning and Fire Marshal are allowing the Seaquarium to “slide by,” endangering the lives of paying customers.

Consumer Complaints

Department of Business and Professional Regulation
1940 Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0782
Phone: (850) 487-1395
Email: http://www.myfloridalicense.com/contactus/
www.myflorida.com/dbpr

State Fire Marshal

200 E. Gaines Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0342
Ph. (850) 413-3089
email: [email protected]

Office of the Attorney General

State of Florida
PL-01 The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Phone: (850) 414-3300

Write to the agencies below and ask why they continually allow Miami Seaquarium to operate when it is sub-standard to their own laws, and request that captive marine mammals at the facility be retired.

Miami-Dade Council and Mayor's Office

From calling, emailing to tweeting, there are a number of ways to contact the Miami-Dade Council- find their contact information here.

Contact the Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office at:

Stephen P. Clark Center
111 NW 1st Street,
29th Floor
Miami, FL 33128
305-375-5071 | [email protected]

USDA, APHIS Animal Care

Write to APHIS (The Animal & Plant Inspection Service) and the USDA and ask them to enforce the Animal Welfare Act. APHIS oversees the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the USDA oversees APHIS.

Send your letters or email to:

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 200-A
Washington, DC 20250
[email protected]

Eastern Regional Director
USDA—APHIS Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606
[email protected]

National Marine Fisheries Service

Call or write to National Marine Fisheries Service and request a current Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) for the Miami Seaquarium.

Office of Protected Resources
1315 East-West Highway, 13th Floor
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (301) 427-8400

Event Posters

Thanks But NO Tanks

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Miami Seaquarium Deaths

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