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Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava celebrates USDA approval of Miami Seaquarium lease transfer

MIAMI ( March 04, 2022 )

Yesterday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally approved the licensing requirements and facility improvements at the Miami Seaquarium necessary to facilitate the transfer of the Seaquarium’s lease from Palace Entertainment Holdings to The Dolphin Company. In response, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava released the following statement: 

“It gives me great pleasure to finally celebrate the successful completion of the improvements at the Miami Seaquarium required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their approval of the Seaquarium’s proposed transfer of ownership. 

“Through their letter dated March 2, 2022 to MS Leisure Company, Inc. (the operating subsidiary of The Dolphin Company), the USDA has confirmed that all licensing requirements have been met, thereby clearing the way for the County’s approval of the Seaquarium lease transfer from Palace to The Dolphin Company. As my administration and the Board of County Commissioners agreed last October, successful resolution of all outstanding USDA items, lease improvements and repairs by Palace were non-negotiable requirements for County approval of the proposed Seaquarium lease transfer.  

“Now that those requirements have been met, we look forward to turning the page and beginning a bright new chapter in the Seaquarium’s history by approving the lease transfer to The Dolphin Company within the next several weeks. This transition to brand-new ownership by an organization experienced in the management of marine facilities worldwide represents a critical and long-overdue opportunity for greater accountability, oversight, and scrutiny of the Seaquarium.  

“My administration’s priority throughout this process has been to ensure the highest standards of care, health and safety for all of the Seaquarium’s marine inhabitants, including the beloved orca Lolita (“Tokitae”), who many also know by her tribal name of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut. Sharing our vision, The Dolphin Company, through their primary emphasis on the health and welfare of all the Seaquarium’s marine inhabitants and their commitment to physical and operational improvements, will ensure the following: 

  • Retirement of Lolita and her dolphin companion from performances and exhibitions;
  • Operation of the Seaquarium pursuant to all applicable federal and state laws and regulations, including the Animal Welfare Act;
  • Commitment to ongoing infrastructure requirements necessary for the optimal operation of the Seaquarium, including all necessary repairs to the whale tank;
  • Maintenance of all certifications, including the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA), and certification by the American Humane Association or similar third-party program;
  • Provision of updated animal welfare management plans for the Seaquarium’s marine inhabitants and infrastructure maintenance and improvement plans on an annual basis, with an emphasis on the care and welfare of Lolita;
  • Maintenance of an active USDA Class C Exhibitor License;
  • Commitment to seeking Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) accreditation;
  • Negotiated amendments to the existing lease agreement to incorporate the highest standards of animal care, with special attention to conservation and rehabilitation requirements; and
  • Implementation of conservation, education, and awareness programs for the community, including the incorporation of environmental protection, science, conservation, and other educational programs into classroom curricula. 

“To ensure that these commitments are kept, I have instructed County staff to conduct higher frequencies of unannounced site and operational visits of the Seaquarium to verify continued contractual compliance and to provide oversight and guidance as needed.  

“Lastly, as required by both my administration and the Board of County Commissioners last October and as emphasized in my bullets above, The Dolphin Company has agreed to execute future lease amendments, subject to approval by the Board, aimed at reinforcing their commitments to the highest levels of animal welfare management, infrastructure maintenance, certification requirements, and conservation education. 

“All of the steps outlined above together represent not only a new chapter in the history of the Seaquarium, but a new beginning as well. The Seaquarium is a part of the fabric of Miami-Dade County — a place not only where treasured memories have been made, but where new memories await future generations. 

“I am excited to welcome The Dolphin Company as a new County partner, and both the Board and I look forward to the completion of this transaction in the immediate future. Together, we will move the Seaquarium into the 21st century and turn her, once again, into a crown jewel of Miami-Dade County.”