Romeo and Juliet, two manatees that have been kept in captivity in small tanks in the Miami Seaquarium since 1956, have been moved to ZooTampa after animal rights organisations protested about the conditions they were kept. A third manatee, an adult female named Clarity, was also moved to SeaWorld in Orlando after living at Miami Seaquarium since 2009.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) told the Guardian last week that Romeo, the 67-year-old male, and Juliet, the 61-year-old female, would be moved soon, as it was looking at facilities that are part of the manatee rescue and rehabilitation partnership, a cohort of accredited aquariums, zoos and marine life centres. Therefore, the headlines circulated at the time saying that they would be “freed” were premature as they would still be captive, and they could still end up being “exhibited” at a zoo. Indeed, the location chosen to move these animals was ZooTampa, and the two manatees were moved there on 5th December. It is not clear if the zoo will exhibit the manatees to the public as it does with all the other animals it keeps captive, and how much bigger will be the tank they will keep them in. 

In a statement, the FWS said, “FWS takes the health and welfare of manatees in managed care seriously [and is] working with an experienced team of manatee rescue and rehabilitation experts through the MRP to assist with the transport effort of manatees from Miami Seaquarium.” 

On 2nd December 2023, the animal protection group UrgentSeas posted on X drone footage showing Romeo living in dismal isolation in a barren small tank hidden from the public at the Miami Seaquarium.

Conditions at Miami Seaquarium began to deteriorate when the Mexico-based Dolphin Company took over operations of the facility in 2021. An inspection report by the USDA in July cited multiple failings by the aquarium to provide its animals with proper veterinary care and adequate living facilities. The inspectors found the aquarium was out of compliance with requirements to keep “primarily social” animals like manatees housed at all times with “at least one compatible animal of the same or biologically related species.” In consequence, the Miami-Dade Board of Commissioners set a deadline of 15th December 2023 for the Seaquarium to address its numerous violations. 

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.