Dolphins at Miami Seaquarium became more aggressive after ‘abrupt’ diet cuts, federal inspectors find

MIAMI – A July 6 report that the U.S. Department of Agriculture made public on Friday details how inspectors said the Miami Seaquarium drastically cut the diets of nine dolphins to get them to perform better — but instead this resulted in angry dolphins fighting back.

Jared Goodman, the deputy general counsel of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, said the report confirms what they have been saying for years about the animals’ terrible suffering at the seaquarium.

“This is a clear indication that the seaquarium is unable to appropriately care for these animals,” Goodman said.

The Dolphin Company purchased the Miami Seaquarium and has been operating it since March.

The USDA report details the seaquarium cut some diets from 13 pounds of fish to only three pounds daily. In all, there was a 60% cut to the dolphins’ daily food rations This resulted in skinny emaciated dolphins as shown in some images published by PETA last month.

“It’s it is heartbreaking to see that Aries lost 63 pounds that Colbalt lost 104 pounds (in just four months) and that to be feeding a dolphin three pounds per day that happens but only when they are sick,” said Jenna Wallace, a former veterinarian at the Seaquarium.

The USDA also issued another scathing report in June 2021- saying the Miami Seaquarium’s previous owners, the Parques Reunidos, also dramatically cut diets for animals at the park and even fed rotten fish to Tokitae, the 56-year-old orca that has since been retired from performing.

The new attending vet told inspectors that she had no knowledge of diets being cut, but Wallace doesn’t buy it.

“I find it very, very difficult to believe that the veterinarian was not informed that the animals were eating three, four pounds of fish per day,” Wallace said.

Even more alarming, the USDA report details incidents of aggression by the dolphins on trainers and members of the public. In April, a video shows a dolphin repeatedly hitting a trainer after breaking from its routine during the show. The report says it happened again.

On July 7, a dolphin named Cayman rammed a trainer into deep water. and three trainers jumped in the water to distract the dolphin, so the injured trainer could safely get out.

The USDA report also says dolphins targeted guests and it details multiple aggressive incidents, including one when a dolphin “mouthed” a member of the public during an in-water interaction.

“You have a guest hand, and the animal goes and puts their mouth on them like this, they will refer to that as mouthing — to me that’s biting,” Wallace said.

The USDA report attributes the aggression to the dolphins’ diets being cut, but Patrick Pearson, the Miami Seaquarium’s general manager, is pushing back on all of it.

“That aggression occurs for a lot of reasons. From what I understand, it could be seasonal,” Pearson said. “It could be a time of year when they just, they behave differently, as do a lot of animals in the wild.”

Pearson does admit though that the dolphins’ diets were cut to within weeks of the new owners taking over the seaquarium.

“Our team came in and evaluated all the animals on the park property and they did determine that some of them were overweight, and adjusted diets based on their overweight,” Pearson said adding the change had “absolutely” nothing to do with their performance.

Not mentioned in the USDA report was the agreement between the USDA and the Dolphin Company when it took over the park that Tokitae would no longer perform or be displayed. That also means that the USDA no longer has oversight over the orca. The seaquarium insists Tokitae is getting better, and eating more, so there will soon be a joint announcement with the group Friends of Lolita about her future.

Read the USDA inspection

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