Controversial aquarium SeaQuest Holdings, Inc., has withdrawn its permit application to open up a location at Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, seven months after it first applied. CEO Vince Covino released a statement along with the announcement.
“We were tremendously excited to open an outpost on Long Island to bring the SeaQuest experience to residents here,” said Covino. “Unfortunately, the length of the process to approve the project began to make the reality of executing this location, along with the multiple other SeaQuest installations currently being developed, unrealistic for our team. We’re sorry it didn’t work out at the Sunrise Mall and we hope to explore other venues in the region and will announce these plans at a later date.”
A spokesperson for Westfield Sunrise expressed the mall’s disappointment in not having the aquarium in place, but said that they will explore other opportunities to bring in unique experiences.
“We were looking forward to further diversify the mix of tenants at Westfield Sunrise to best serve the community, and to bring an exciting new education and entertainment option to families,” said the spokesperson. “We hope to have announcements regarding new openings at the center in the near future.”
In response to Covino noting the length of the approval process as a reason why they pulled the application, Town of Oyster Bay spokesperson Marta Kane told the Massapequa Observer in a statement that a mistake in the application needed to be fixed first.
“The applicant made errors when filing their initial paperwork with the town and only corrected the mistake on March 29,” said Kane. “Clearly, the company must have a greater reason for withdrawing their application than the seven-week timeframe.”
The withdrawal comes after months of protests and outcry from members of the community, including former Massapequa resident Alec Baldwin, about the animal cruelty allegations and charges against Covino and his company at many of his locations. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Brittany Peet released a statement celebrating the aquarium moving on from Town of Oyster Bay.
“SeaQuest’s history is filled with dead and dying animals and violations of animal-welfare laws,” said Peet. “Every city that refuses to let SeaQuest set up shop is making the world a safer place for animals, who deserve better than to be used in sleazy shopping-mall petting zoos.”
One of the main figures in the effort to stop SeaQuest from opening at the mall was John Di Leonardo, PETA’s manager of Animals in Entertainment Campaigns and the executive director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION). He said that Covino failed to report their enforcement actions in their initial application and it’s no one else’s fault but his.
“Hundreds of animals have now been spared from neglect and death in the hands of this shady aquarium and petting zoo in Oyster Bay,” said Di Leonardo. “SeaQuest saw the writing on the wall and withdrew its application instead of sharing its appalling and constantly growing sheet of state and local animal abuse citations with town officials.”
Di Leonardo pointed out how just last month, SeaQuest’s license to possess and display numerous animals was revoked in Colorado after the company’s Littleton, CO, location racked up eight citations for violations of state laws in just six months. Also last month, the company’s location in Las Vegas had its exotic-animal permit revoked after the aquarium possessed otters and coatimundis illegally. Former employees have also come forward about animal abuse and deaths at these locations as well as others throughout the country.
“We are going to continue to push that wherever they apply or move, we’re going to have a similar result as we had here in Oyster Bay,” said Di Leonardo.
Some residents have expressed concern that if SeaQuest did not get put in to Westfield Sunrise that the mall would continue to struggle. However, Di Leonardo said that there are animal-friendly exhibits that the company could explore as an entertainment option.
“If they want to do something related to live animals, there’s cutting-edge virtual exhibits like what National Geographic is doing with their ‘Ocean Odyssey’ in Time Square,” said Di Leonardo. “I know that at several hearings people have brought that up to push Westfield to do something like that. Those exhibits don’t exploit animals and teach people the proper lessons about conservation. If they want to have live animals in their mall, they can rent out space to local shelters and adoption facilities.”