TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Florida Aquarium is facing accusations that they starved a nurse shark to death as part of a training program.
The animal rights group, PETA wrote a five page letter to the Hillsborough State Attorney and the county's pet resource center, saying a former employee at the aquarium signed an affidavit insisting the aquarium withheld food from a shark named Weezy, and several stingrays, so they'd react the way trainers wanted during shows.
PETA's claims originated with the anonymous former employee, who says the nurse shark that lived in a half-million gallon tank, was underfed to the point he died of starvation.
"We are urging the authorities to investigate this and provide appropriate accountability," said PETA's Director of Animal Law, Jared Goodman. "It certainly is very credible information."
The Florida Aquarium Vice President for Conservation, Margo McKnight told FOX 13 News the aquarium feeds the large animals one-by-one, then spreads more food than needed throughout the tank afterward, to make sure the hundreds of smaller ones are fed.
"You can't withhold food from any animal in this tank," she said. "And especially nurse sharks that sit on the bottom and suck up food."
They offered the paperwork from Weezy's autopsy, done by a third party, that says the primary problem Weezy had was a, "vegetative lesion involving an aortic valve."
In other words, heart failure.
"[The allegations] are absolutely false, and they are super disappointing," said McKnight. "The staff that takes care of these animals are devastated by the allegations, because they're the ones that love these animals."
The aquarium says it needs more specifics about the claims regarding the stingrays to fully respond, but says workers' training never includes depriving an animal of food.
PETA also cited a third party training group called Precision Behavior, based in Merritt Island. Precision Behavior did not yet respond to our request for comment.