South of my hometown of St. Augustine lies Marineland Of Florida. Marineland is an "oceanarium" that dates from the 1930's. It was originally built as an underwater studio for Hollywood movie producers.
Alot of movies in the pre-scuba era had their underwater scenes filmed there. In Creature From The Black Lagoon, this is where the creature was taken after it's capture. One of the young actors who gets whacked by the creature was my Uncle who happened to be a handsome young guy working at Marineland at the time.
Marineland was also a tourist destination and a research center. In pre-Disney (those were the days) Florida, Marineland was a major destination for tourons. Then came Disney and Seaworld. Suddenly Marineland seemed to be just what it was...an old fashioned, small, nonflashy marine park. It slowly failed through the 80's and 90's, and eventually shut it's doors.
Recently, it reopened...sort of. A new group has refurbished part of it with more modern acrylic viewing walls and it is strictly a dolphin/sea lion facility.
I went to the grand opening about a month ago with the kids. They were advertising a special one day, ONE DOLLAR admission fee, and since I was curious and cheap, it seemed worth investigating.
We waited in line, and then filed obediently out to the viewing area next to a large outdoor pool. Our side of the pool was made of large windows so we could see the dolphins from above and below. Atop the tank, an MC walked with a microphone explaining the new venture. He used the words "dolphin research" alot, but what he was selling was "dolphin encounters" where you pay $$$ to swim for a few minutes with the dolphins. We left after a few minutes, I missed the fish and besides I like my dolphins wild.
A life on the water has gifted me with some amazing dolphin experiences.
In Salt Run near St. Augustine, I watched a pod of dolphin slaughter a school of mullet a few yards from where I fished. After their bellies were full, they tossed mullet into the air in a game of catch. (Play is one more sign of intelligence)
In the marshes of Tybee Island, Georgia, while on patrol as an NPS Ranger, I witnessed the famous Georgia-South Carolina dolphins swooshing fish up onto the bank and then catching them as they frantically flip-flopped back to the water. Pretty incredible.
Returning from Seahorse Key, dolphin have surfed my wake or suddenly appeared beneath my bow wave riding the pressure wave. As a sometime surfer, I know why they were smiling.
More than once, around the Cedar Key islands,as I drifted quietly in the boat, I watched dolphins methodically work as a pack to consolidate a school of mullet into a tight juicy target. On the perimeter of the school, dolphins circled slapping their flukes,keeping the mullet school confused and balled up. Then, one by one, the dolphin took turns lunging into the school for fish. It was impossible to watch it without thinking of a pack of wolves working together.
Those dolphins at Marineland are all captive born, so they don't know what they're missing. They seemed very healthy and perky, and they are doing good public relations for their species by their cuteness. In the end, their sacrifice of freedom may help their species and other cetaceans by keeping landlubbers concerned about their well being in the wild too.
I like mine wild tho...