WOODBRIDGE — A campaign against SeaQuest operating at Woodbridge Center appeared to attract some new supporters this weekend, driven by concerns over animal treatment and living conditions.

Denise Morgan, of Sayreville, said by her estimate at least 100 people turned out to take part in an anti-SeaQuest protest at the mall Saturday.

Morgan said she has been at the shopping center nearly every weekend since July, trying to draw attention to the questionable national record of the SeaQuest company, since even before the Woodbridge site opened its doors.

Messages sent to SeaQuest Woodbridge representatives Sunday were not immediately returned.

A recent Facebook post by Monmouth County resident, Jen Cotrell, appears to have bolstered the grassroots efforts, by voicing concerns about SeaQuest in late December.

"This is advertised as an aquarium but it houses reptiles, sea animals, farm animals, exotic animals and domesticated pets. This is INSIDE the Woodbridge mall," Cotrell wrote on her personal Facebook page, while also sharing photos she said were taken during her visit to SeaQuest Woodbridge.

"Guests have free range access to many of their animals meaning you can touch, feed, and handle them and most without any supervision," Cotrell also wrote in the post, which was in-turn shared by "Shut Down SeaQuest Woodbridge."

The public Facebook group run by Morgan, was liked by more than 1,500 people and followed by 1,570 people as of Sunday.

Months ago, when Morgan first began protesting the planned opening of the facility, a spokeswoman for SeaQuest said many activists "have never set foot inside a SeaQuest facility and it is likely difficult for them to see beyond the false 'captivity kills' rhetoric they use against aquariums and zoos."

"Every month, our vet documents any concerns pertaining to the cleanliness or suitability of each habitat, and any animals with health concerns," Elsa MacDonald said in her August 2019 statement. "In addition, interaction guidelines are followed by team members to ensure a fun and safe experience, as we educate guests on the importance of caring for these animals and their habitats in the wild."

goat at SeaQuest Woodbridge, before being surrendered (courtesy Jen Cottrell)

Cotrell's Dec. 29 post included a photo of a small baby pool on a concrete floor with a nearby cinderblock and a wooden plank leaning over it, which was said to be in an otter habitat, as well as a photo of a goat laying down in an enclosure at SeaQuest.

On Jan. 2, Goats of Anarchy confirmed that SeaQuest Woodbridge had surrendered its three goats to the non-profit group. "SeaQuest Woodbridge informed us that they will be closing the goat exhibit at their location and we could not be happier," a post on the Goats of Anarchy Facebook page said, alongside a photo of the animals in their new home in northwestern New Jersey.

3 goats surrendered by SeaQuest Woodbridge (courtesy Goats of Anarchy)

Video taken inside the mall was shared to Facebook Saturday, showing a large group of demonstrators chanting "Shut them down" near a SeaQuest interior wall billboard.

Michelle Sinnott of PETA said they've "been tracking SeaQuest for a long time" and called the company a "lawless death trap."

Among concerns raised by PETA, two SeaQuest facilities lost permits last year in Colorado and Nevada.

A SeaQuest aquarium in Littleton, Colorado, had its license suspended by state Parks and Wildlife officials for two years in spring 2019, less than a year after its opening at a mall there, according to The Denver Post.

The same report said dozens of complaints and reports of injuries were recorded at the facility before it opted to replace some species with new animals that don’t require state licensing.

SeaQuest Las Vegas had its exotic-animal permit revoked in April 2019, for missing the proper permits for otters and coatimundis.

And, twice in 2019, SeaQuest Fort Worth was cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allowing members of the public to come into contact with an Asian small-clawed otter without an adequate barrier in-place. The USDA report said it resulted in at least four incidents in which visitors were hurt.

The SeaQuest website features a page titled "Neglect at SeaQuest," which refutes a number of such licensing and citation issues, with subheadings like Animal Cruelty, also saying at one point, "SeaQuest is the enemy of PETA, who supports a motto of 'death before captivity'."

Under the subheading Criminal Charges, the company's website says "SeaQuest has never faced criminal charges, and is inaccurately portrayed as having attempted to procure species from the environment illegally."

Morgan said she and fellow concerned area residents have reached out to state division of fish and wildlife officials, mall ownership and the CEO of SeaQuest, raising concerns about animals' living conditions.

Another protest against SeaQuest Woodbridge was planned for Sunday, Jan. 12, from 2 until 4 p.m. at the mall, according to the group led by Morgan.

The activist group also plans to attend the upcoming Woodbridge Township Council meeting on Jan. 21.

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