Three captive manatees will soon be transferred to another facility more suited to their needs, where they will join other manatees to live out their lives in a social safe haven.
City and federal officials stepped in to make the change following public outcry in response to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, by UrgentSeas (@UrgentSeas) about 67-year-old Romeo, the Guardian reported Friday. The manatee was filmed swimming solitarily in a small tank at the Miami Seaquarium, away from 61-year-old Juliet, his companion since the two were rescued in 1956.
This video was taken on Nov 13th, 2023 above the Miami Seaquarium. Romeo, a 67 year old manatee lives in complete isolation in ever deteriorating conditions. We must fight for Romeo! #FreeRomeo pic.twitter.com/9BfdsYFaSA— @UrgentSeas (@urgentseas) November 14, 2023
A younger unidentified manatee will join the pair, who has been “kept apart for months and were suffering a ‘horrendous captivity,’” according to the Guardian, which cited UrgentSeas.
The move is slated to occur by mid-December but could happen as early as this week. The outlet called it “complex” and “high risk” — the latter because of the trio’s health problems — but also necessary for the manatees’ wellbeing. UrgentSeas stated the mammals are “semi-social animals [who] suffer psychologically when not living in pairs or groups.”
Romeo and Juliet were the first manatees to conceive offspring in human care, and Juliet has nursed five orphan calves in recent years, according to the Seaquarium.
The Guardian reported Romeo has been alone since the spring when three juvenile manatees were returned to the ocean. The Seaquarium did not meet the requirements to receive another animal, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will handle the manatee transport project.
In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited the facility for numerous violations, including the absence of an overhead tarp to protect Romeo from direct sunlight, which can damage the animal’s skin and eyes.
There are 13 California sea lions, eight harbor seals, 20 bottlenose dolphins, and two Pacific white-sided dolphins at the Seaquarium, which is run by The Dolphin Company, according to the USDA report.
“Marine mammals, whenever known to be primarily social in the wild, must be housed in their primary enclosure with at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species,” it stated.
The USDA inspection took place in July, and it found the Seaquarium had facilities in disrepair, lacked trained employees (with just one veterinarian), and mishandled animals. The report prompted Miami-Dade County to set a Dec. 15 deadline for the establishment to fix the issues or lose its lease.
Sea animals in captivity like this have become such an issue that Edge Innovations has created a $3 million hyper-realistic robotic dolphin that may one day free captive dolphins worldwide.
On Nov. 3, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the city to terminate the Seaquarium’s lease because of the violations. A year prior, PETA had made the same request, citing a 2022 USDA report — perhaps even more damning — that showed the Seaquarium had starved its dolphins. The Washington Post also published an exposé on Dec. 5 about the treatment of an orca who died at the Seaquarium in August while held in the facility’s small performance tank at all times.
“Despite having every opportunity to do so, the Seaquarium has proven unable or unwilling to operate lawfully, even amidst intense public scrutiny of the facility,” PETA managing general counsel Jared Goodman wrote. “The time has come to break the Miami Seaquarium’s cycle of abuse by immediately initiating proceedings to terminate the lease.”
“Just release the thing,” one X user wrote of the manatee. “Only reason animals should ever be in captivity if hurt or for extinction purposes.”
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