PETA Squashes SeaQuest CEO’s Bid to Build a Grand Forks, North Dakota, Aquarium!

Published by Katherine Sullivan.

A vacant Kmart in Grand Forks, North Dakota, was dangerously close to being turned into a SeaQuest aquarium and petting zoo—but then PETA stepped in! In his bid for $1 million in taxpayer money to build another animal house of horrors, SeaQuest CEO Vince Covino made numerous demonstrably false statements to the Grand Forks City Council, including about his connection to a convicted wildlife trafficker. So PETA urged North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to consider the facts, and we requested an investigation into apparent violations of the North Dakota Unlawful Sales or Advertising Practices Act. Now, mere days after our letter was sent, Covino has conveniently decided to “pass” on the Grand Forks location.

In our letter to Stenehjem, we pointed out several of Covino’s false and misleading claims, including the following:

  • Although Covino states that SeaQuest is the fastest growing aquarium/petting zoo company “in the history of the world,” in part because it has been “successful with compliance with regulators,” the company has been hit with citations stemming from human injuries and animal deaths, a fine for possession of unpermitted animals, a license suspension, and a lawsuit over unpaid taxes.
  • While Covino has attempted to distance himself from his brother, Ammon, a convicted wildlife trafficker, the indictment against Ammon outlines his attempt to acquire sharks for an aquarium that he was building with Vince. Ammon was also arrested and jailed for violating his parole restrictions by working on the construction of and animal acquisition for two SeaQuest facilities.

  • Vince Covino dismissed an incident in which a child had been bitten by an otter at SeaQuest’s Connecticut location as “nothing to the extent where a Band-Aid wouldn’t fix it immediately,” but otter bites carry a risk of rabies infection—and the bite occurred just two weeks after interactions with otters resumed following a six-month state-mandated rabies quarantine because another child had been bitten.
seaquest otters stressed by human interaction

For the most part, SeaQuest confines otters exclusively to indoor areas that have concrete flooring, with straw sometimes covering the concrete. When they’re not swimming in water, otters generally need dry land for resting. Ideally, the terrain would consist of grass, soil, sand, or pebbles—not concrete, which can cause foot and tail sores.

  • Records show that SeaQuest Las Vegas secretly replaced a dead otter with another animal, in violation of its county permit. This unpermitted female otter was placed with a male otter, even though SeaQuest’s permit strictly prohibited breeding, and she became pregnant a month after arriving. Contrary to Covino’s claims, this otter did not arrive at SeaQuest pregnant.
  • While Covino claims that SeaQuest has received funding “in every city” and that $1 million “would be the smallest amount of funds” that it’s ever received, only Layton, Utah, seems to have given SeaQuest public funds—and only $40,000.

Thankfully, Covino decided to walk away instead of continuing his bid to swindle Grand Forks taxpayers out of a million dollars. And while the disreputable CEO reportedly claims that other unidentified cities “want and needSeaQuest, PETA remains at the ready, prepared to advise municipalities about his deceptive conduct as well as the trail of dead animals, injured customers, and controversy that SeaQuest aquariums have left. As we keep doing everything that we can to prevent any more of these monstrosities from popping up, you can speak up for these animals, too: Click below to urge SeaQuest to stop exploiting animals and to share your disappointment with properties that have supported the notorious company:

Speak Up for Animals Trapped at SeaQuest

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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