LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — "The otter had gone into the tube and I guess it got shredded and it died."
That's what a former SeaQuest employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Nevada Voters for Animals, said at a protest outside the Boulevard mall earlier this year.
Then, the death was just a rumor. Now, it's confirmed.
"They would just say, 'oh, he's sick' and they'd just replace it and say 'oh, no, that's the same otter,' you know, because guests don't know any better," the former employee said.
The first of two female otters that died at SeaQuest in 2018 was taken to SeaQuest's vet shortly before her death in May.
We obtained the necropsy report, which says "... The stress of shipping to Vegas, introduction to a new environment and caging during construction may have caused fatal cardiac consequences."
"How many animals need to die for our entertainment or pleasure?" asks Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals.
A new otter SeaQuest brought in without a permit had babies in violation of the county's ban on exotic animal breeding.
SeaQuest was fined $2,000 for that. During their failed attempt to appeal the fine and Animal Control citation, a second otter death was revealed by SeaQuest General Manager David Nearhouse.
NOT THE FIRST TIME SEAQUEST IS UNDER SCRUTINY
- Feb. 24: Citation issued as Seaquest remains under investigation
- May 13: SeaQuest's problems extend beyond Las Vegas
In an audio recording from that appeal hearing, the arbitrator asks Nearhouse , "What happened to the second otter that you received a permit for in May?"
"The second otter passed away," Nearhouse answered. "She got caught in one of our filtration systems. They were able to -- the otters were able to open them up and got her -- one of her arms caught in the filtration system ... In the intake."
We asked SeaQuest if that otter drowned, or, as employees allege, she was butchered by a fan in the filtration system.
SeaQuest did not respond to our questions but David Nearhouse said this to the arbitrator:
"When that happened, we notified Animal Control. We notified USDA. USDA came in and we had to take preventative measures before we'd be allowed to have the male otter -- Peanut -- be able to swim back in the water area again. Which we did. We had Peanut out of the water for approximately a month while we took care of that."
What we don't know is who SeaQuest consulted before building an otter enclosure with a filtration system that proved not to be otter-proof.
And when we asked, once again, SeaQuest did not respond.
Another former SeaQuest employee we spoke to several months ago told us in some cases, employees with no experience building anything were forced to build the enclosures.
"We weren't licensed to do that. They would order these animals and be like, alright, you've got three days."
There's still some confusion about just how many otters have come through SeaQuest Las Vegas and what's become of them.
A combination of records from Animal Control and the Nevada Department of Wildlife document five. But their county permit allows for only two.
"It's nothing that we're trying to intentionally trick Animal Control. That's not what our purpose has ever been," Nearhouse said to the arbitrator during the appeal hearing.
"So where are they?" Gina Greisen wants to know. "Are they dead? Are they alive? Are they hidden? Were they sent off to other facilities?"
We've asked Animal Control that question and are awaiting an answer.
In the meantime, Nevada Voters for Animals is asking county leaders to hold a public hearing about whether SeaQuest should be allowed to continue operating in Las Vegas.
Another new development: According to a recently filed lawsuit, the Austin Aquarium, run by the same family that operates SeaQuest, is being sued in Texas by parents whose daughter was bitten by an unvaccinated lemur.