SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Whitney Malin’s vocation may be as a voice over performer, but her avocation is animal advocate. She regularly fosters dogs or cats in her home, and has often facilitated private adoptions so that owners who can’t keep their animals won’t surrender them to shelters. When the South Orange resident heard about the conditions in SeaQuest, an aquarium and animal petting venue in the Woodbridge Mall, she knew she had to act. 

“A post came across my Facebook page about SeaQuest and I thought it was horrible. So I Googled it and realized it goes deep. I never do protests or join groups, but this is important. This is a national chain, they could move into the Livingston Mall,” Malin said. So she started a petition on change.org to close the Woodbridge location, which has been open some two months. More than 4,500 people have signed it in the six days it’s been live.

Malin wrote on her Facebook page, “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. Concrete floors for all the animals not in tanks. Guests have free range access to many of their animals meaning you can touch, feed, and handle them and most without any supervision. The lizards available to feed and touch were in an enclosure you could walk into. They are crawling under your feet or huddled on top of each other because they aren’t in an 80 degree tank like they should be.”

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She organized some SOMA residents to join yesterday’s protest at the mall. Some 80 people gathered in front of the for-profit “petting zoo feeding aquarium experience.” Inside the mall an organizer chanted “SeaQuest” and the crowd answered “shut them down.”

Although no criminal charges or citations have been made at the Woodbridge location, two one-star Yelp reviews from December note distress in the animals. Mitch B. from Fanwood wrote on Dec. 29 “Literally every non-aquatic animal in this place is showing signs of stress: birds ramming themselves against walls, lizards suffering from lack of heat and going into inactive states… This place needs to be shut down. A mall is no place for animals to have to live like this. Awful.” Alexis R. from Metuchen wrote on Dec. 1, “Yikes… The ducks were huddled in the only corner they had; while children were throwing food at them (extremely sad).”

Malin said now that she has started, she is energized. “I’m finding ways to rescue the five Bengal cats that are in a concrete enclosure. I’m not stopping, I have plans in mind,” for further action, she said.

Advocates’ efforts have already gotten the three goats from the location removed and surrendered by SeaQuest to rescue organization Goats of Anarchy.

Editor's Note: In earlier versions of this story we refer to Ammon Covino as an owner of the chain of SeaQuest Aquariums. This is incorrect, Ammon Covino is not affiliated with a SeaQuest entity. Ammon Covino's brother Vince is the owner of SeaQuest. We apologize for this error.