Aquarium's Troubled Water

Troubled water: Despite controversy, Austin Aquarium now offering birthday party packages

Despite controversy, Austin Aquarium charges on with plans to open

Portland Aquarium
The Austin Aquarium is engaging in an aggressive social media campaign aimed at boosting interest in the new attraction. Photo courtesy of Visit Portland

Despite allegations of starvation and mistreatment of animals at their Portland aquarium, the owners of the new Austin Aquarium are charging ahead with plans to open the attraction by the end of the year. This week, the aquarium is offering 50 percent off birthday parties to be held at the space, despite some people's advocating for a boycott and PETA's request for an formal investigation into the space.

But the controversy isn't just regulated to Portland and Austin. On September 24, Ammon Covino pled guilty to conspiracy for attempting to illegally buy sharks and stingrays for his Idaho aquarium.

The birthday party offer is the latest in an aggressive public relations and social media campaign launched by the Aquarium. In addition to such deals as half-price yearly memberships, the aquarium is opening its doors to the public, hosting events including a Halloween party and membership drives in the parking lot of its Northwest Austin locale.

The Aquarium also posts news of newly acquired animals and construction updates on Facebook, despite getting in trouble with the city in July for housing animals without the proper permits.

Since August, when two former employees at the Portland Aquarium released a list of more than 200 animals who died under their care, the owners of the Austin Aquarium, brothers Vince and Amman Covino, have been dealing with a public relations nightmare. A month before a piece published in The Oregonian accused the brothers of causing undue harm to animals in an effort to save money, a group in Austin had already rallied to call for a formal boycott of the aquarium.

While the city of Austin has not done anything to stop construction, they did cite the aquarium for illegally housing animals without the proper permits on July 18. In a follow-up visit, the animals were found to have been removed. In August, PETA sent a letter to the city of Austin requesting a formal investigation into the aquarium. In an interview with KVUE, Peter Covino, father of the owners, said, "We had permits for everything we've done, we've had permission for everything we've done."

But the controversy isn't relegated to only Portland and Austin. On September 24, Ammon Covino pled guilty to conspiracy for attempting to buy sharks and stingrays illegally for his Idaho aquarium.

As the aquarium finalizes construction and prepares to open, it remains to be see if Austinites will embrace the new attraction — or if the Austin Aquarium will be a fish out water.