Last month, we released information about an anonymous tip that alleged a private building inspection had been done at Hawaii's Sea Life Park that found numerous buildings in danger of collapse and serious structural damage, putting both visitor and animal safety at risk.
Before releasing this information, our partners at Animal Rights Hawaii contacted the Department Of Land And Natural Resources (DLNR) District Land Agent Barry Cheung, who said he would look into it but never got back to them on the issue despite follow up calls. Shortly thereafter, Sea Life Park announced that their Hawaii Ocean Theater, one of the structures referenced in the leak report, was closed to the public.
With one of the buildings mentioned in the report still open and no known investigation nor penalty given to the park for allegedly covering up a very serious public safety concern, further attempts to contact DLNR received no response. Instead, last week Sea Life Park announced they would be undergoing an estimated $30 million renovation.
While this may sound like good news, these improvements won't be made to areas of the park where they are most needed, instead they'll be for things like an "active" volcano exhibit, restoring part of a historic fishing village called Kaupo, updating the park's restaurant area, and expanding their already questionable sea turtle release program. Zero improvements will be done concerning the state of the dolphin exhibits and tanks. Sea Life Park marketing manager Christina Leos told press "the master plan doesn’t address dolphins, but their welfare is part of the park’s ongoing list of smaller projects like shade covers." A curious statement considering the park has been cited by United States Department Of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Plant And Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for failing to provide adequate shade for their animals, including the dolphins, repeatedly despite years of similar claims from the park that they are already in the process of remediating the issue. In addition to these citations, APHIS has also noted in recent years that there are "small patches of missing/peeling paint in the enclosure for the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals in their care (under NOAA permit), concrete surfaces in the Sea Lion Feeding Pool crumbling and deteriorating, and exposed rusting rebar in the Aloha Discovery dolphin pool. There's also Kina, a false killer whale auctioned to the park by the University of Hawaii, that came as a package deal with two bottlenose dolphins desired by the park. Kina has been kept hidden behind the scenes of the park in what has frequently been referred to by animal rights activists as a shallow tub although this species is known to dive 500 meters in the wild.
With so many poor reviews referencing the park's dated and crumbling state on travel websites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, it is discouraging but not surprising that the park will simply be made to "look" nicer while failing to address much needed improvements for the welfare of the animals in their care.
Sea Life Park general manager informed press the park’s redevelopment is on an "aggressive permitting timetable," with public hearings expected in February and March. Keiko Conservation and Animal Rights Hawaii will be very active in these upcoming hearings. We will share updates and ways to get involved.