America’s worst aquarium is right in SLO County, VICE News says

In this 2013 file photo, Morro Bay Aquarium’s John Alcorn feeds Rames, then one of three sea lions at the facility.
In this 2013 file photo, Morro Bay Aquarium’s John Alcorn feeds Rames, then one of three sea lions at the facility. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Morro Bay Aquarium is scheduled to officially close its doors in September, and it can’t come soon enough, according to VICE News West Coast Editor Jamie Lee Curtis Taete.

Taete detailed his visit to the Morro Bay Aquarium, a city landmark and topic of discussion for decades, in a story published Tuesday on Vice’s website called, “Seeing the Sad Animals at America’s Worst Aquarium Broke My Heart.”

The author says he first became aware of the Central Coast aquarium when a co-worker sent him a link to its Yelp page, which is filled with hundreds of negative reviews, one of which called it “the most depressing place in California.”

Dean Tyler opened Morro Bay Aquarium in 1960 and populated it with sea lions, otters and marines animals he either rescued or captured himself.

Animal rights organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals began protesting in the 1990s that the aquarium’s facilities were substandard. And in the early 1990s the U.S. Department of Agriculture repeatedly warned the Tylers that their seal tanks weren’t deep enough. The tanks have since been deepened.

Though there are plans for a new multimillion-dollar waterfront aquarium to open in Morro Bay in the coming years, it will be another nine months before the Tylers’ 50-year lease expires.

And Taete certainly didn’t hold back on his review of the decrepit facility, which he also notes is “operating legally and above board.”

“The fish room was so bleak it felt as though each design decision had been specifically made to maximize its misery,” Taete wrote. “... The sadness was so obvious and over the top that if you were to pitch photos of it as set designs for the Penguin’s lair in a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, they would be rejected for being too on the nose.”

The author also contacted Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal specialist at the Animal Welfare Institute, who said in 25 years working in her field, she’s received more complaints about Morro Bay Aquarium than any other aquarium in the country.

“It’s just so outdated and so low tech and so inappropriate to hold marine mammals in that kind of enclosure anymore that it genuinely boggles my mind,” Rose said.

Taete says he attempted to contact John Alcorn, the Tylers’ grandson who oversees the facility, for the story, but he declined to comment or be interviewed, “saying he was sick of people writing negative stories about the aquarium.”

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