In an effort to raise public awareness about exploitation of marine mammals, the Animal Activists Network (AAN) has held several peaceful protests this year in front of the Miami Seaquarium. This weekend, they're trying a new venue: the home of a park executive.
On weekends the animal rights activists regularly rally together underneath the intense South Florida sun, and hold signs along the Rickenbacker Causeway in the hopes of stopping potential costumers from financially supporting the marine mammal park.
Though they are successful in deterring some cars, many others drive right by them, unfazed, and into the Seaquarium's parking lot.
AAN wants Palace Entertainment, the Seaquarum's new owner, to retire the park's performing animals and turn it into another kind of attraction. One that does not profit from the "misery" of captive animals. The activists believe that marine mammals parks are no longer relevant in today's society.
"We understand that Palace Entertainment is a business and needs to earn a profit but they do not have to do so from animals' misery," Geragi Jeff, the co-founder of AAN, told New Times. "This is 2015 and we're living in new times, and with public opinion shifting on parks like the Seaquarium with the release of movies like Blackfish, it just does not make sense for it to remain open. [However,] we believe Palace can convert it into one of their Boomers! Parks, which are cruelty free, and still turn a profit."
However, Palace Entertainment, which bought the Miami Seaquarium last year for a cool $30 million, has shown no signs of changing the business model of the park, nor of retiring any of the animals. Including Lolita, an orca whose nearly 45 years in captivity has concerned activists from around the world.
AAN is partnering with Smash HLS, a group known for its aggressive animal activism, in developing a new method in protesting the attraction. In hopes of raising more public awareness, they are hosting a candlelight vigil from 7 P.M. to 9 P.M. on Sunday in front of the home of Robert Rose, the curator of the park.
"This is just another way to raise awareness," Jeff said. "It is going to be peaceful and we are not expecting any of our activists to get out of line. We've never had an issue from our protests in front of the Seaquarium. I'm sure [Rose] will call the police but we are ready to comply with any orders they give us."
Though Rose could press charges against the activists if he or his family are harassed or intimidated, or if there is destruction or vandalism of property, according to legal experts peaceful demonstrations in residential neighborhoods are protected under the law.
"The First Amendment protects the right to picket, demonstrate, and protest in residential neighborhoods," said Delcianna Winders, an attorney for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Though PETA is not directly related to this event, it has held similar protests and Winders says the outcomes of demonstrating in the neighborhoods of executives can be effective in getting their undivided attention.
"PETA has held peaceful protests and leafleted outside the homes of executives in the past, and just held a protest at new SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby's home last weekend to ask that he use his influence to send the captive orcas at SeaWorld to seaside sanctuaries," she told New Times. "Bringing the message home can be an effective way to reach individuals in power who can effect real change for animals. Animal abuse isn't something an executive should be able to escape from when he or she leaves the office, given that orcas like Lolita are forced to swim in endless circles for decades. Lolita never gets a break, and neither should the executives who profit from her abuse."
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However, some critics say that the effort may further alienate the Seaquarium's staff from considering the view's of the activists and that AAN and Smash HLN should be addressing the executives of Palace Entertainment, or its parent company, Parques Reunidos, rather than Rose.
Still, the activists groups are moving forward with their evening demonstration. About 100 people are expected to turn out and hold candles for Lolita on the sidewalks of Rose's Coral Gables neighborhood. Hundreds of other activists will be participating from around the world through the Internet, and have been encouraged by AAN to post photos of their vigils to social media.
"We're not holding the vigil to raise hell," Jeff concluded. "We're doing this to raise awareness."
The Miami Seaquarium staff has told New Times that they currently have no commentary to provide regarding the vigil.