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Miami Seaquarium faces eviction, but what about the animals?

Miami Seaquarium faces eviction -- but what about the animals?
Miami Seaquarium faces eviction -- but what about the animals? 02:43

MIAMI - On Friday, CBS News Miami contacted the Miami-Dade County Mayor's Office and the Miami Seaquarium to find out what will happen to all the animals once the doors close, but neither side provided clarity.  
We went searching for answers, after years of well-documented animal care violations and abuse by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Miami Seaquarium.

"My biggest fear is the same thing happening again, a different aquarium taking over," said a local Marine Biologist and researcher, Spencer Roberts.

Roberts hopes Miami-Dade County will abandon the animal park model and instead create an animal sanctuary.

"Rehabilitation model," emphasized Roberts. "The county can partner with places like the Rosenstiel school that's already doing this kind of work."

CBS News Miami reporter Joe Gorchow asked Roberts, "Are you worried that the county will not have an animal care plan before the proposed lease's termination date, April 21st?"

"Absolutely," answered Roberts. "It's a huge undertaking and needs to be approached carefully."

"I am really concerned some of the animals might be euthanized instead of transferred to better facilities," said Dr. Crystal Heath, co-founder of Our Honor.  

The organization aims to empower veterinarians and animal professionals who face bullying and retaliation for voicing workplace concerns.

Just last month, she met with former Miami Seaquarium veterinarians while going inside the facility.

"Observed fish in the reef tank were surrounded by turbid water," said Heath. "They had many scarred eyes, bulging eyes. I saw Panama, who is a 30-year-old dolphin, in the top deck tank, swimming very slowly and lethargically; I saw the penguin housing had peeling paint and black mold present."

Living conditions, coupled with multiple well-documented animal violations by the USDA, are why Heath wants action.

"I'm surprised the Mayor hasn't taken these animals into protective custody," said Heath. "From what I understand, and under Florida law, animal services can confiscate these animals and house them where they're at."

We looked at Florida's Animal Cruelty State Statute, which states that a "neglected or mistreated animal may be removed from its present custody."

"We know many zoo vets who are willing to step in and help and provide care for these animals," said Heath.

 A spokesperson for the mayor's office says they're working on contingency plans for the animals based on how the next few weeks unfold.  

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