Animal Legal Defense Fund Demands Investigation of Morro Bay Aquarium for Tax Fraud

Posted on August 13, 2014

“Seal Guantanamo” Claims Nonprofit Tax Shelter While Exploiting Marine Mammals for Profit

For immediate release:

Lisa Franzetta, ALDF
Megan Backus, ALDF

seal-at-morro-230pxMORRO BAY, Calif. — Today, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sent formal complaint letters to California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Internal Revenue Service, alleging the Morro Bay Marine Rehabilitation Center, the nonprofit arm of the Morro Bay Aquarium, committed tax fraud when it claimed nonprofit tax status based on false claims that the facility provides rehabilitation services to distressed marine animals. However, the Morro Bay Aquarium has not rehabilitated a marine mammal since 1995, when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) rescinded the aquarium’s “letter of authorization” to rescue marine mammals following the Aquarium’s repeated failure to comply with the agency’s requirements. Without alerting the IRS to this change, the Morro Bay Aquarium—dubbed “Seal Guantanamo” by critics—has illegally claimed nonprofit tax status for nearly 20 years. Earlier this year, under threat of litigation from ALDF, the aquarium also stopped making false claims that their seals were “all rehabilitated.”

Poor conditions at the Morro Bay Aquarium include lack of adequate veterinary care and minimal space—seals and sea lions are permanently confined in shallow concrete tanks without enrichment. Following a visit to the Aquarium in 2010, Dr. Laurie Gage, an inspector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), wrote in her report, “This facility has an alarming mortality rate of captive born animals that is over 90 percent for both sea lions and harbor seals. No captive born pinniped has lived longer than 4.5 years after arriving at the aquarium. These animals should be able to live easily into their 20s.” The aquarium is expected to close in 2018, when its 50 year lease from the city of Morro Bay expires.

“The Morro Bay Aquarium has lied to both the public and the government, claiming its seals were rehabilitated. The IRS has an opportunity to end this charade and revoke the aquarium’s nonprofit status,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The Morro Bay Aquarium should close its doors now rather than forcing these animals to suffer for four more years.”

Copies of the letters of complaint and the NMFS letter revoking the Morro Bay Aquarium’s rescue authority are available by request.

15 thoughts on “Animal Legal Defense Fund Demands Investigation of Morro Bay Aquarium for Tax Fraud

  1. Dana Nelson says:

    I used to go to Morrow bay all the time and know about this aquarium I never paid money the animals there seems so unhappy but there was nothing I can do about it. I hope you can get this aquarium shut down now before 2018.

  2. Holly Storey says:

    This is heinous!! How can humans be this cruel?

  3. Cindy Christians says:

    This is disturbing and disgusting! Animals don’t have a chance in this world, it’s all about the money! I Pray you can get this horrible place shut down ASAP so no more animals have to suffer and die! :(

  4. Ann Dana says:

    Makes me sick for these poor creatures

  5. Deneve David says:

    I’ve been to Morro Bay many times, and it is a charming town. But the “aquarium”, as it is inaccurately called, is a disgrace and I stopped going there after my first visit.
    They are exploiting the animals for tourist dollars. They are kept in a small concrete enclosure with their only stimulation being the visitors who pay for bags of snacks to throw to them. It is a depressing excuse for an “attraction” and Morro Bay will be better off without it.


  7. Sue Fellows says:

    Shocking state of affairs. Let’s get the place shut down!

  8. frances bull says:

    totally unacceptable!

  9. Linda Mitchell says:

    To not use money for the animals for vetenary treatment is bad enough but to leave animals in this place to suffer is something else I hope this can be rectified for the animals sake.

  10. Lori says:

    THEY NEED TO DO THE RIGHT THING!!!!! I wouldn’t wanna live like that period and they shouldn’t either!!!!!!!!

  11. CATH HARDING says:

    No animal should suffer in the hands of humans.

  12. Kay says:

    Shut this hell hole down and get the marine animals out of there and into safe places. The Morro Bay Aquarium should be forced to close its doors now rather than forcing these animals to suffer for four more years.” They have been telling lies about their “nonprofit tax status” for nearly 20 years. This is enough reason and illegal action by Morro Bay Aquarium to shut them down immediately. Why would you let them go on for 4 more years when they have so blatantly lied to the IRS? What is wrong with this country? Get those poor animals out of there and into sanctuaries.

  13. Albert Chen says:

    I’ve just returned from Morro Bay and I feel sorry for the cryin animals inside. Is there a petition that I can sign to shut down that place?

  14. EYG says:

    And now their irresponsibility will strain the resources of other sanctuaries that will have to take in the animals they failed, provided they survive until then. Reprehensible.

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