In Seaquarium eviction, county prepping to take custody of park’s animals if needed

As an eviction combat ramps up, Miami-Dade County mentioned Wednesday will probably be prepared to take custody of the ocean lions, dolphins, birds and different animals belonging to the Miami Seaquarium.

“The county is currently putting together a contingency plan in case we do have to care for the animals,” Melanie Spencer, an assistant county legal professional, informed a federal choose throughout a Wednesday afternoon listening to on a Seaquarium effort to block the eviction notice Miami-Dade issued two weeks in the past.

A Seaquarium lawyer warned that park animals have been in danger if Miami-Dade steps in to take care of them, telling U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Becerra the county isn’t prepared for that endeavor.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade serves Seaquarium with eviction notice

“I don’t believe they understand the scope of the number of animals in [the Seaquarium’s] custody,” mentioned Hilton Napoleon II, a Coral Gables lawyer representing the theme park. “The amount of food they eat. Why the dolphins need to eat ice.”

The competing eventualities of a county Seaquarium takeover rested primarily on a authorized argument, slightly than Miami-Dade threatening to take custody of the theme park’s menagerie as half of the eviction proceedings.

The lots of of animals within the Seaquarium belong to the Dolphin Company, which operates the park and runs marine-mammal sights all over the world.

The administration of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is making ready to ask a Florida choose to drive the Seaquarium to give up its 38-acre leased property again to the county over alleged mismanagement of the property and mistreatment of animals. The Seaquarium denies the allegations.

In a federal go well with filed April 19, a Dolphin Company subsidiary, MS Leisure Corp., cited U.S. laws of captive animals in asking Becerra for an injunction stopping Miami-Dade from taking on the property.

Becerra mentioned she was reluctant to wade into the eviction dispute on the grounds of Miami-Dade doubtlessly violating the Endangered Species Act or federal guidelines on captive migratory birds when the county hasn’t but tried to seize any of the Seaquarium’s animals.

“I’ve never had a case quite like this,” Becerra mentioned.

The dispute pits Levine Cava towards the Dolphin Company, the Mexico-based firm that took over the Seaquarium in 2022 from the county’s prior operator.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade County moves to evict Miami Seaquarium, gives park until April to vacate

Levine Cava initially embraced the brand new possession for its pledge to relocate Lolita, the Seaquarium’s getting older killer whale, to an open-water sanctuary. But the connection soured within the months after the orca died Aug. 18.

Federal inspectors cited the park for considerations associated to animal care, and county inspectors detailed quite a few failings with the park’s infrastructure. The Seaquarium claims Miami-Dade is ignoring a string of fixes for the animal-care points. It additionally says the county is wrongly blaming the Dolphin Company for long-running deferred upkeep on the county-owned park.

Spencer, the county lawyer, mentioned within the subsequent a number of days the combat would transfer to Circuit Court when Miami-Dade information a proper eviction go well with.

That will convey the matter earlier than an elected state choose, who can resolve whether or not Miami-Dade has the appropriate to void the Seaquarium’s lease and take again the property that has been the theme park’s residence because the Fifties.

Napoleon, the theme park’s lawyer, mentioned the Seaquarium is nervous Miami-Dade will shut the property and order employees to keep away. “If they put a red tag on this facility, and we’re not allowed inside, this can cause serious hazards for the animals,” he mentioned.

Spencer didn’t elaborate on the county’s contingency plan however mentioned the administration has been in contact with the federal businesses that regulate animals in captivity at leisure venues just like the Seaquarium.

She additionally urged Miami-Dade might flip to different animal parks for assist in the occasion that forcing the Seaquarium out left the native authorities with residing property of the present operator.

“We have been in contact with other facilities,” she informed Becerra.

Levine Cava’s prime deputy, chief working officer Jimmy Morales, famous after the listening to that Miami-Dade operates Zoo Miami, with county staff who’re specialists in animal care.

“Obviously at the zoo, we have hundreds and thousands of animals, some of which are endangered,” he mentioned in an interview. “We clearly have the capability to look after them. “

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