UPDATE: PETA Maintains Animal Abuse Claim Against Florida Aquarium
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is maintaining an abuse claim against the Florida Aquarium over the death of a nurse shark due to starvation as part of a training program gone wrong. We previously posted about the claim in January 2017. Since then, the State Attorney's Office and the Pet Resource Center have indicated that they are not pursuing the complaint.
The Florida Aquarium maintains that they have never implemented food deprivation as part of any training program. A necropsy of the nurse shark in question showed that he died from a lesion on his aortic valve that led to inflammation and infection. The Florida Aquarium enjoys a reputation for its excellent care of exhibit animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which grants accreditation to fewer than 10 percent of the 2800 animal exhibitors nationwide that are license by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nevertheless, PETA's complaint arose after it received an anonymous tip from a former employee about the Florida Aquarium's training practices. The deceased nurse shark lived in an interactive exhibit. According to the former employee, the Florida Aquarium attempted to train specimens in the exhibit, particularly nurse sharks and stingrays, to feed on cue by withholding food if the animals failed to eat promptly at designated times each day. The former employee alleges that this practice caused the nurse shark's death. For its part, the Florida Aquarium has explained that animals are rewarded when they correctly respond to a command and they're ignored, rather than punished, when they do not.
PETA has vowed to continue pursuing its complaint against the Florida Aquarium, although with the State Attorney's Office and the Pet Resource Center refusing to investigate, it is not clear how PETA will proceed.
For more information, see:
Libby Baldwin, Aquarium Unlikely Complaint Target, but PETA Persists Over Shark Death, Tampa Bay Times (Mar. 9, 2017), available at: http://www.tampabay.com/news/aquarium-unlikely-target-for-complaint-but-peta-still-pursuing-shark-death/2315946