SeaQuest, a hands-on aquarium and small-animal exhibit, opened Friday at Rosedale Center, offering visitors a chance to snorkel with stingrays as well as feed and touch wallabies, an octopus and even a two-toed sloth.
The two-story, 23,000-square-foot exhibit features more than 200 species of animals including mammals, reptiles, birds and fish. Visitors can meander through exhibits such as Caribbean Cove, Amazon Rainforest, the Grasslands and the Egyptian Desert. There are more than 1,000 individual animals.
“You are going on a quest around the planet, experiencing five different continents,” said Elsa MacDonald, SeaQuest’s vice president of marketing. “And you can feed most of the animals.”
The Rosedale site is the sixth SeaQuest to open in the United States, with five more in the works. Animal welfare activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have protested openings elsewhere, saying that CEO Vince Covino and his family have a checkered past, including a federal wildlife trafficking conviction for his brother.
But no protesters could be seen Friday morning at Rosedale, where SeaQuest was offering a promotional rate of $69.95 for annual memberships for a family of five. Day passes will go on sale Monday, running from $7.95 per child to $12.95 for adults if purchased online. Feeding and snorkeling cost extra.
SeaQuest is designed for suburban families looking for a hands-on, two-hour adventure without the hassles of driving downtown, MacDonald said. It’s found success with the indoor suburban model in other cities, she said, even with competition from existing zoos and aquariums.
“With malls moving to that eat-shop-play model, we really help with that play equation,” MacDonald said.
Hours before the opening Friday, staffers — including Covino — were applying the final touches. Some cleaned tanks in wet suits; one bottlefed a coatimundi, a small South American mammal, while another tended to the giant Pacific octopus.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The Boise, Idaho-based company opened its first SeaQuest in Las Vegas in 2016 and now has locations in suburban Denver, Sacramento, Fort Worth and Salt Lake City.
MacDonald said some of the animals at Rosedale came from other SeaQuest locations. Some, particularly the reptiles, were rescued from owners no longer capable of caring for them. Two species at Rosedale — Asian small-clawed otters and the axolotl, a Mexican salamander — are seriously threatened, she said.
A veterinarian visits the Rosedale location regularly and keeps charts for each animal, MacDonald said. SeaQuest has worked with local, county and state authorities to ensure compliance with regulations, she said. Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have visited the SeaQuest Rosedale, she said.
Nevertheless, SeaQuest, Covino and his family have faced criticism over the treatment of animals.
“There’s lots of concerns with Vince Covino,” said Michelle Sinnott, an attorney with the PETA Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. “PETA is urging Roseville families to stay far away from SeaQuest.”
PETA officials supplied records from Colorado Parks and Wildlife indicating that more than 40 people have been injured interacting with animals at the SeaQuest outside Denver since it opened last year. Many of the injuries were bites and scratches.
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sinnott.
Covino and his brother, Ammon, co-owned the Portland Aquarium, which closed in 2016 after staffers said animals had suffered and died there, according to the Oregonian newspaper.
In 2013 Ammon Covino, then president of the Idaho Aquarium in Boise, pleaded guilty in a Florida federal court to conspiring to illegally purchase wildlife. An indictment said that he ordered the illegal purchase of spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks. He was sentenced to one year in prison followed by two years of conditional release, during which he was supposed to abstain from exhibiting, importing or transporting fish and wildlife.
In late 2016, a federal judge determined that Ammon Covino had violated those conditions by helping open SeaQuest venues in Las Vegas and suburban Salt Lake City. The judge sent him back to prison for an additional eight months, according to federal court files. MacDonald said Ammon Covino was never affiliated with SeaQuest.
Rosedale’s owner, Chicago-based JLL, released a statement last month saying its policy is that all animals “be treated humanely, including in compliance with applicable animal welfare regulations and in accordance with guidance issued by animal rights and welfare organizations.”