Here’s Why You Should NEVER Visit the Austin Aquarium

Published by Elena Waldman.

At the Austin Aquarium—a shoddy strip-mall aquarium owned by the notorious Covino family—visitors are allowed to “get up close and personal” with sensitive wildlife who don’t want to be pet, poked, or prodded at by humans. The dilapidated petting zoo has been in hot water for filthy and unsafe enclosures, failing to notify a veterinarian after observing animals’ abnormal behaviors, and more.

These startling animal welfare issues are just business as usual for members of the Covino family. SeaQuest, a chain of direct-contact aquariums owned by Vince Covino is plagued by concerns, including hundreds of animal deaths, legal violations, and dozens of injuries to staff and the public. It appears that the Austin Aquarium—which has close ties to Vince’s brother, Ammon Covino—is no different than the other junky exhibits owned by the Covinos.

Keep reading to see why you should never visit the Austin Aquarium, or any facility owned by members of the Covino family:

  • Two otters—Scooter and Sadie—were observed exhibiting abnormal, repetitive behaviors at the Austin Aquarium. Scooter was observed “constantly sucking his right front foot,” which remained in his mouth even when he was walking throughout the exhibit. Sadie was seen tossing her head while “repetitively running in a circle around one area of the exhibit.”
    • Stereotypic behaviors in animals at roadside zoos and other cruel establishments—like the ones reportedly observed in Scooter and Sadie—are often a sign of mental anguish known as zoochosis. This condition is a common indicator of poor welfare.
    • In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) slapped the Austin Aquarium with a citation for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act for not contacting a veterinarian. The facility’s animal care manager reportedly said that Scooter “always sucked his foot and they had expected him to outgrow it,” and that Sadie began her repetitive behavior after they changed her public feeding “from twice a day to allowing it all day.”

  • A USDA inspection report revealed that the capybara enclosure’s pool was “cloudy,” “brown/yellowish in color,” and had “fecal matter floating around.” The pool apparently had no filtration system, relying “solely on [manual] water changes.
    • The accumulation of waste in animals’ enclosures can increase their risk of contracting dangerous diseases.
    • In January 2022, the USDA cited the Austin Aquarium for not adequately cleaning the capybara enclosure.

  • A room where two miniature pigs were held reportedly had “pitted and eroded areas,” with debris “accumulating in the eroded area of the floor,” making sanitation difficult.
    • In May 2021, the USDA cited the facility for failing to maintain the flooring in the animal quarantine room in good repair.
  • In 2019, the parents of a 10-year-old girl who was allegedly bitten by a lemur filed a lawsuit against the Austin Aquarium.
    • Lemurs, like all other primates, have complex social hierarchies and will bite out of instinct to establish dominance. Their bites have been known to injure humans, which is one reason why they should never be used for public interaction.
    • Close contact with lemurs poses a serious threat to both humans and the animals, as the risk of transmitting zoonotic diseases is very high.

  • Kangaroos and rabbits who had ear problems were reportedly undergoing “treatment recommended by a facility employee,” but a veterinarian was not consulted before beginning treatment and there was no vet exam to determine the cause of the ear problems in the kangaroos, according to a May 2019 inspection report.
  • According to another report, a metal hook was exposed at the top of the coatimundi enclosure that could cause an animal to become caught or entangled; the coatimundi and red ruffed lemur enclosures lacked effective barriers that would ensure the safety of the animals and the public; and the room holding the kinkajou enclosure had black debris along the walls and doorframe.
    • In September 2018, the Austin Aquarium received 4 citations from the USDA for failing to fix these potential hazards.

Our Fellow Animals Don’t Want to Be Trapped at Shopping Mall Aquariums—Speak Up!

Animals don’t want to be kept in small, dirty enclosures, forced to interact with humans, or gawked at. Never visit the Austin Aquarium or any other shady mall aquarium or roadside zoo.

Take action now to tell the Covino family to send the animals to reputable sanctuaries:

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind