::PETA Rapid-Action Center::
SeaQuest—Notorious for Exploiting Animals
SeaQuest aquariums are plagued by animal welfare issues, animal deaths, legal violations, and injuries to employees and the public from direct contact with animals. The company continues to be hit with neglect allegations, often from former employees, and it’s notorious for exploiting animals for entertainment.
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Here is what PETA is doing in the fight against SeaQuest. Keep scrolling to learn about the animal-exploiting company’s long and troubling history and to find out how you can help us and all those who oppose SeaQuest.
- PETA urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to terminate SeaQuest’s federal Animal Welfare Act license because the licensee had violated a number of state and local laws pertaining to the transportation, ownership, neglect, and welfare of animals.
- PETA placed a giant billboard in heavily trafficked areas of SeaQuest’s operations in Littleton, Colorado. It featured a blood-soaked parody of SeaQuest’s logo and urged families to steer clear of the shady company’s animal exploitation.
- In May 2019, SeaQuest withdrew its application to open a planned facility in Oyster Bay, New York. This victory came after PETA contacted the town’s board and identified legally required disclosures that SeaQuest failed to provide as part of its permit application. The town gave the shady company the opportunity to provide that information, but it opted to withdraw its application instead. Actor and PETA supporter Alec Baldwin had also sent a letter urging officials in Oyster Bay to deny the permit.
- In December 2020—as part of an agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by PETA, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, and activist Ana Campos—SeaQuest dropped its bid to open a location at The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale in Florida. The lawsuit alleged that the city violated zoning laws when issuing SeaQuest a permit. The permit was issued under the false pretense that SeaQuest is a museum—even though its primary purpose is exhibiting live animals with an emphasis on direct contact.
A Long History of Animal Neglect and Legal Troubles
- In 2018, National Geographic published an article about the sordid and dubious aquarium industry, including discussions of the Covino family and the widespread opposition to SeaQuest.
- SeaQuest’s CEO, Vince Covino, was fined $5,000 in 2017 for securities violations after failing to reveal a prior disciplinary action to potential investors.
- Vince’s brother, Ammon Covino, has been convicted in federal court for illegal wildlife trafficking.
- In 2013, he was sentenced in federal court to more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit illegal wildlife trafficking.
- In February 2016, he was sent back to prison after violating his parole by working at the San Antonio and Austin aquariums.
- Later that same year, even though his parole restrictions prohibited him from doing so, Ammon was involved in the opening of SeaQuest aquariums in both Nevada and Utah, for which he was again sent back to prison.
- At the now-closed Portland Aquarium in Oregon, which was co-owned by both Vince and Ammon, more than 200 animals reportedly died over the course of three months. Many of the animals—including seahorses, stingrays, garden eels, bamboo sharks, and other species of fish—allegedly died from starvation, infection, and other seemingly preventable causes. The brothers even acknowledged that the facility went without regular veterinary services during this time.
Growing List of Permit Violations and Legal Woes
Trouble in Littleton, Colorado
- In April 2019, after SeaQuest Littleton in Colorado racked up numerous citations, the facility’s zoological parks license was suspended for two years by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
- In late 2018, Colorado officials cited SeaQuest for failing to report injuries to a sloth, who had been burned by a heat lamp on two occasions. He had multiple raw areas and redness with scabbing and skin sloughing on his face, and a couple of the wounds were oozing. One burn was so severe that he winced when eating. The company failed to notify a veterinarian about the injuries, even though it told state officials that it had.
- State inspectors from the Colorado Department of Agriculture denied SeaQuest a permit after it failed multiple pre-licensing inspections during which officials had concerns about the bird exhibit, which they said was “potentially dangerous” for the animals. SeaQuest’s request for authorization to open temporarily until a final permit was issued was denied, yet it opened anyway. Subsequently, state officials issued it a cease and desist order because it was operating without a permit.
- Following that order, the aquarium transferred approximately 80 parakeets to a teenage employee, whose family then advertised them online for free, and the birds were given away in a hardware store parking lot.
- In June 2018, SeaQuest also violated the law by importing two capybaras and a sloth into Colorado without permits and then harboring the animals in the manager’s residential basement. The aquarium put them on display, even though it lacked the authorization to do so. Just two months later, SeaQuest received another warning for the illegal importation of animals, this time for a caiman and a wallaby.
- SeaQuest was also cited and fined for failing to report the death of a kookaburra who had reportedly died from drowning. The company initially reported that the bird had choked on a toy but later confirmed that she had actually drowned in a water bowl. CPW also issued SeaQuest a warning for failing to report the death of 250 trout while in transit to the aquarium.
Trouble in Las Vegas, Nevada
- In 2019, Clark County Animal Control (CCAC) cited SeaQuest Las Vegas, fined it $2,000, and revoked its exotic-wildlife permit for possessing unpermitted animals, including illegally bred otters. CCAC subsequently reissued the permit but with stricter conditions.
- In October 2018, a capybara escaped while being transported in a dog carrier in the back of an open truck bed. The animal was found badly injured, bleeding from the face and limping, reportedly in a Target parking lot. SeaQuest was cited and fined for the incident.
Reports of Dead and Suffering Animals
From Former Employees
- A former SeaQuest employee alleged that SeaQuest Las Vegas withheld food from animals to force them to interact with guests who pay to feed them.
- A February 2019 three-part investigative report exposed several issues with the SeaQuest Las Vegas exhibit, as described by five former employees who alleged that the facility is dangerous for the public, staff, and animals.
- One former employee reported that children stomped on birds in the interactive aviary, killing them, and that the dead animals were thrown into the garbage, reportedly to prevent SeaQuest from having to document their deaths.
- Another former employee reported a similar pattern with small turtles, some of whom were crushed by children. “I think they started with 12. By the time I left they had three,” he said.
- A former employee also reported that a large octopus was “literally cooked alive” after a change in the tank’s temperature overheated the water.
- According to reports, the former employees also provided videos and photos of “a sump room wall covered in black mold, a dead turtle they say was left to rot for days in the koi tank, and a bug-infested drain in the aviary where they say birds drank and bathed before interacting with guests.”
- In 2017, a former employee came forward with reports of apparent animal neglect at SeaQuest Las Vegas, saying that he saw hundreds of animals die.
From Government Records
- In July 2020, a 1-year-old sloth named Flash died at SeaQuest’s facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. Flash was very thin when he died and had a history of weakness, twitching, and lack of appetite. PETA asked the USDA to investigate the circumstances that led to his death, including whether SeaQuest could adequately care for this species.
- According to a report following a USDA inspection, in June 2020, an employee of SeaQuest Trumbull in Connecticut was caught hitting otters with a metal bowl.
- After a female otter died in May 2018, the necropsy report stated that “[t]he stress of shipping to Vegas, introduction to a new environment and caging during construction may have caused fatal cardiac consequences.”
- Another otter named Jelly drowned after getting her arm stuck in a filtration system. SeaQuest Las Vegas admitted that it had never reported the incident to CCAC.
- According to a CPW document, a child visiting SeaQuest Littleton kicked and stomped on birds in the interactive aviary, resulting in the death of five birds and injuries to others.
- In December 2018, a very thin iguana named Violet died at SeaQuest Littleton a week after a veterinarian advised that the animal had a poor prognosis and was likely going to die. SeaQuest had been attempting to force-feed her. The veterinarian’s notes report that in that same week, another underweight iguana died.
From Public Visitors
- In January 2020, after a video of skittish goats huddled in a corner at SeaQuest Woodbridge in New Jersey went viral, concerned people took action and persuaded SeaQuest to close its goat exhibit at this location and move the goats to a local rescue facility.
- Within a month of the grand opening of the SeaQuest aquarium in Folsom, California, a stingray died. The animal was found in a touch tank by a visitor who noticed the lifeless body, partially buried under sand. Reportedly, kids were touching the corpse.
- A visitor to SeaQuest Folsom documented that it took approximately two minutes for staff to return a fish to water after the animal jumped out of an uncovered tank. The fall from the tank to the floor alone was enough to daze and disorient the fish, who was left to flop on the ground for a prolonged period of time out of the water, likely suffocating.
Public Safety Concerns
- The USDA cited SeaQuest Trumbull in Connecticut after a July 2020 incident in which a small child was bitten by an otter during public feeding. Inspectors also found that for at least a year, SeaQuest had not properly secured the capybara enclosure. SeaQuest only added a lock to the enclosure door after an unsupervised member of the public was caught entering the area.
- In February 2021, the USDA cited SeaQuest Fort Worth in Texas when it found that visitors to the facility had been bitten by a capybara and a sloth. This was the third time the agency had cited the facility in connection with animals injuring guests. The two previous citations (in February 2019 and June 2019) were given because, on several occasions, SeaQuest had allowed members of the public to come into contact with an Asian small-clawed otter named Xander without an adequate barrier in place. Previously, in 2018, the USDA had issued the facility a “teachable moment” after multiple people were bitten and scratched by capybaras used for interactions.
- In January 2020, the USDA cited SeaQuest Layton in Utah a second time for allowing public interactions with Gus, a South American coatimundi, without adequate barriers or direct control of him. He bit a guest and an employee during a public interaction session. SeaQuest was first cited for failing to protect animals and the public with adequate barriers after Gus bit a guest and an employee in November 2019.
- In August 2019, a 12-year-old visitor to SeaQuest Trumbull in Connecticut was bitten by an otter. State authorities had told SeaQuest that it was obligated to keep animals in a manner that prevents risk of injury to the public and that allowing public feeding would not be in compliance with that requirement.
- Between June 2018 and January 2019, more than 40 humans—including over a dozen infants and children—were injured by animals at SeaQuest Littleton. One guest’s husband called 911 to report that his wife was having difficulty breathing and experiencing numbness after she reached into a tank and touched a pufferfish. (These fish naturally excrete an extremely potent, deadly neurotoxin.)
How You Can Help
These violations and SeaQuest’s apparent disregard for animals should be a red flag to anyone, especially those considering doing business with the company. If malls want to add some entertainment to their shoppers’ experience, there are tons of truly animal-friendly ways to do so. National Geographic’s Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is a great example. Billed as the “aquarium of the future,” the exhibit is an animated, cruelty-free aquarium that allows people to have virtual reality experiences of swimming with whales and dolphins, exploring coral reefs, and even playing with a seal. Companies such as Simon Property Group—the nation’s largest shopping mall operator—have already committed to not working with SeaQuest. Now we must urge others to follow suit.
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