Gulfarium fails to report marine mammal deaths for more than 18 years
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2007:
FORT LAUDERDALE–Dolphin Freedom Foundation founder Russ
Rector, 58, is betting he’ll outlive the Gulfarium, the Miami
Seaquarium, and many of the other first-generation marine mammal
parks still operating along the Florida coast.
“We’re all about the same age,” Rector told ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“and I’m showing mine, but so are they, and I don’t have to pass
Marineland of Florida, opened in 1938, still exists in name
as a swim-with-dolphins facility, but no longer stages dolphin
shows. The original circular tank and the slightly larger
rectangular tank have been demolished. Most of the property is now a
The Gulfarium and Seaquarium, both opened in 1955, are now
the oldest Florida marine mammal parks, “and are not aging
gracefully,” says Rector, using their web site illustrations to
point out problems.
Rector, like Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry, is a
former dolphin trainer who became disenchanted with the business.
Rector started at Ocean World in Fort Lauderdale in 1969, soon after
O’Barry left the Seaquarium and just before O’Barry staged his first
protest against marine mammal captivity, attempting to free two
dolphins in the Bahamas on Earth Day 1970.
Working at Ocean World for seven years, Rector later made
Ocean World the first target of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, and
two years later, in 1994, saw it closed. Rector predicted that the
12 Ocean World dolphins would not survive sale to a Honduran resort,
and was right.
The Seaquarium was his next focus. It remains in business,
but Rector predicts it will not long outlive Lolita, the resident
orca, captured at Penn Cove in Puget Sound in 1973. No longer
performing in shows, Lolita is believed to be in poor health. In
2003 Rector alerted Miami building and safety inspectors to
electrical problems at the Seaquarium that led to citations for 137
Rector escalated efforts against the Gulfarium after the
deaths of Daphne, a female pantropical spotted dolphin, and Buster,
an Atlantic spotted dolphin. Daphne died on April 22, 2007; Buster
died two days later.
A May 22, 2007 surprise inspection by agents of the National
Marine Fisheries Service and the USDA Animal & Plant Health
Inspection Service found that the Gulfarium had failed to file
federally required reports of marine mammal deaths since 1988. At
least six deaths had not been reported.
Daphne, a Gulfarium resident since 1998, died from the
effects of prolonged treatment with the drug metronidazole, USDA
inspector Michelle Williams discovered.
Williams found that longtime Gulfarium veterinarian Forest
Townsend prescribed a 10-day course of metronidazole. Through
employee error, Daphne received metronidazole for two months.
“Prior to death, the dolphin started exhibiting signs of a
neurologic problem,” Williams noted, but Townsend was not informed.
“Questions were also raised about a dolphin named Prince,”
wrote Tom Mc-Laughlin Northwest Florida Daily News, “whose name
doesn’t appear in an inventory of Gulfarium marine mammals kept by
the National Marine Fisheries Service.”
Gulfarium general manager Don Abrams told McLaughlin that
“Prince” was a dolphin listed as “Pearl,” who was captured in 1985
and died as result of damage done to the Gulfarium by Hurricane Ivan
Rector told ANIMAL PEOPLE that the dolphin died due to sea
water surging over her tank and collapsing a roof.
Summarized McLaughlin, “The National Marine Fisheries
Service also cited the Gulfarium for failing to maintain an inventory
of its animals and for neglecting to disclose where it had acquired
its river otters. Sea lion enclosures and the facility’s ‘rookery’
were particularly poorly maintained, the report said. Williams
reported finding improperly stored and packaged animal food.
“The Gulfarium was also cited for sanitation issues,”
McLaughlin continued, including “a dead sea gull found in a
non-event area and cigarette butts disposed of in an area containing
“USDA inspectors found that Kiwi, a dolphin who had been
housed with Daphne, had been kept by herself since Daphne’s death in
late April,” McLaughlin added.
Gulfarium curator Greg Siebenthaler resigned on June 8,
citing health reasons. The son of founder John Siebenthaler, who
died in 2000, Greg Siebenthaler remains on the board of directors.
Gulfarium general manager Don Abrams told McLaughlin that a
June 21 follow-up inspection found that most of the issues identified
in May were resolved. But that was before the USDA, NMFS, Rector,
and news media including ANIMAL PEOPLE received a 15-page letter from
former Gulfarium trainer Candi McGrew. Employed at the Gulfarium for
five years, ending in 2006, McGrew alleged that management neglect
of maintenance and veterinary care contributed to many of the
non-reported animal deaths.
The Gulfarium declined invitations from ANIMAL PEOPLE and
WJHG-7 television reporter Elyse Molstad to respond to McGrew’s
Rector meanwhile filed a complaint about Gulfarium electrical
maintenance with the Okaloosa County Code Division.
Other sites struggle
Other Florida animal exhibition facilities are reportedly
struggling in the shadows of Sea World, Walt Disney’s Wild Animal
Kingdom, and Busch Gardens.
The 34-year-old Clearwater Marine Aquarium, occupying a
former sewage treatment plant that the city acquired for $1.00,
hopes to have bought a new lease on life by cutting a hole in the
roof over the main dolphin tank, as part of $400,000 worth of
renovations completed during the first half of 2007.
The roof, only 12 feet above the water, limited the ability
of the three resident dolphins to jump.
The Zoo Northwest Florida in Pensacola is $3 million in debt
and in danger of closing, reported Michael Stewart of the Pensacola
News Journal on July 29, 2007.
“It remains one of the area’s top attractions,” Stewart
wrote, “but it still is reeling from more than $600,000 in damage
inflicted by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005.”
Just as the zoo board started a fundraising drive, an
adolescent female hippopotamus named Niles was killed by her father
on July 7, and a 10-year-old giraffe named Sammy was found dead on
Stewart detailed a long list of animal care issues alleged by
former docent Carol Mills and ex-employee Sandra Dempsey. While the
Zoo Northwest Florida management denied that any of the items they
mentioned were serious, the zoo lost accreditation by the
Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2006, after having held
accredited status since 1998.
“The Zoo has been operating at a loss since its inception,”
Stewart wrote. “In 2004, the Gulf Coast Zoological Society, a
nonprofit organization, took over the Zoo from Animal Park Inc.,
founded by four local businessmen,” whose contributions have
continued to keep it open.