You don’t have to be a marine biologist or an animal rights crusader to recognize that the Morro Bay Aquarium is in need of a major overhaul.
While the aquarium may meet the letter of the law in terms of animal welfare requirements, valid concerns have been raised about whether the marine mammals — one seal and three sea lions — have adequate space in the outdoor pools.
The dark and dingy indoor tanks are a problem, too. The overall impression is one of a facility way past its prime.
We don’t doubt that the owners of the aquarium, Dean and Bertha Tyler, have done their best to care for the marine life under their protection, starting in the 1960s when people would bring them sick and abandoned marine mammals and birds.
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However, in its present sorry condition, the aquarium has become a controversial and polarizing issue. And that’s a shame, because this could be a key asset — an educational resource for local residents, as well as an attraction for visitors.
Not that we expect anything close to a Monterey Bay Aquarium — that’s far too ambitious. But individual features of that world-class aquarium, such as touch tanks for kids, are feasible.
With the current 50-year lease on the aquarium property expiring in 2018, the Morro Bay City Council has the opportunity to make some changes. Under city policy, the staff is already starting to negotiate a new lease — that’s smart.
We believe the current owners should have ever y chance to modernize the facility. These must be substantive changes, however — not just a fresh coat of paint — and they should be made in consultation with marine life experts.
If the owners aren’t willing to comply, we strongly urge the City Council not to grant them a new lease and to look instead to other proposals.
This would not be an easy decision for the council; the Morro Bay Aquarium and the Tylers have a strong base of support.
However, the council must act on behalf of the entire community when deciding the future of this prime piece of waterfront property, as well as other Embarcadero properties with leases that will be expiring in the next five to 10 years.
An aquarium is an excellent fit for Morro Bay, but if the current facility can’t be rescued, we strongly urge the City Council to consider other options.