Read the original article by Cassidy Grom at nj.com here.
Animal welfare activists are asking New Jersey officials to block an aquarium from coming to the state.
SeaQuest, which runs “interactive” aquariums in five other states, will open a site at Woodbridge Center Mall this fall, it announced last month. However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling foul on the company, saying it has a track record of putting animals at risk — an allegation the company refutes.
“SeaQuest is losing permits left and right, and it should be chased out of any town where it tries to set up shop,” PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet said. “PETA is urging New Jersey officials to take a close look at the risks to animals and to the public that this sleazy petting zoo would bring to the Garden State.”
PETA sent a letter to the NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday, urging it to consult with wildlife officials in other states about the aquarium.
“SeaQuest is not ‘losing permits left and right.’ In fact, we are successfully operating six facilities from the west coast to the midwest and continue to provide an incredible, educational and safe guest experience,” company spokesperson Elsa MacDonald said. She added the company is working closely with state officials to provide a safe experience for animals and humans alike.
NJ Department of Fish and Wildlife officials did not immediately return requests for comment from NJ Advance Media.
PETA official Laura Hagen claimed the company’s “interactive” business model, where guests are invited to pet many of the animals, will break a New Jersey Law that prohibits the public from feeding regulated exotic and non-game wildlife and taking pictures of themselves holding those animals.
SeaQuest said it will house two animal species regulated by the state — a sloth and Asian Small Clawed Otters. MacDonald said guests will “be able to see and learn about them without direct interaction,” which would be in line with state regulations.
SeaQuest has faced some controversy in other states. It failed two Colorado Wildlife and State Agriculture inspections at its location in that state. In a separate report, Colorado animal welfare inspectors found that SeaQuest failed to request permits to import a two-toed Sloth and two capybaras (mammals native to South America) into the state. At the time, SeaQuest said the issues occurred because they were initially unaware of Colorado’s regulations, which differed from other states.
A former employee at the company’s Las Vegas location alleged that hundreds of animals died over the course of six months in 2017. He also claimed the company hired undertrained staff.
MacDonald said in April that death counts include even tiny animals and fish. At the time of the Las Vegas allegations, the accuser was a disgruntled employee who quit after he was passed up for a promotion, CEO Vince Covino said, according to the Review-Journal.
The company’s other sites are home to around 300 different species each, including stingrays, sharks, turtles, snakes, lizards and birds, according to the SeaQuest website.
“We look forward to working with all necessary agencies in Woodbridge and the state of New Jersey for the successful launch and operation of SeaQuest Woodbridge,” MacDonald said.