Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rebirth ??? Of MarineLand Of Florida

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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 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...


pablo said...

We saw a similar arrangment when we were in the Bahamas a few years back. Dolphin encounters -- life-changing experiences -- all for the right price.

You've lead a rich and varied life. It amazes me how much action you've packed into your few short years. Oh, wait! You're old than I am. I'd forgotten that.

Live long and prosper!

Zanne said...

I do too.

You have jogged my memory about visits to a similar marineland-type facility in Panama City when we were kids. It was exciting.

I've never understood the thought process involved in Disneyfication - for instance, when I visited Epcot (once only, thank you very much) I thought to myself, "I'm so sure that this is NOT experiencing Morocco, which would be filled with exotic smells, people, animals, and leather being tanned with camel urine!"

The Disney experience didn't include any of that, only a young girl dressed in a belly dancing costume. I don't understand "fake" experiences I guess.

doubleknot said...

How you have enjoyed your encounters with the dolphins over the years. May you have more.
True the captive ones may teach a lesson to the people of today but I still don't agree with the swim with the dolphins thing.
Last time I went to Disney World was years ago and I realised there wasn't a live animanl in the park. I hear that has changed but still am not interested in going again.

John Cowart said...

You've jogged my memory with this; my grandmother took me to Marineland back in the late '40s. I've never forgotten the wonder of it.

Deb said...

You bring out very well the contrast between real life experiences and contrived pseudo experiences. I'll take the real thing any day.

Hick said...

Interesting take on the captive dolphins.

I went to Marineland in LA when I was a kid (on our way to Disneyland) and I seem to remember enjoying the experience. Then they opened Sea World in San Diego (where I went to college) and I really enjoyed seeing all the different sea life there. One of the better aquariums in this area (probably a 3 hour drive from here) is in Monterey. Makes me want to go's been a while. Maybe I won't have to drive so far if this rain keeps up...the ocean will come to me.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

I like animals wild in their natural habitat. I've watched dolphins playing in the Monterey Bay. They leaped out of the water with the most amazing exuberance and energy. I can't go to an aquarium or marine park without feeling a deep sadness for the animals' captivity.

roger said...

your last para pretty well sums up the contradictions inherent in zoos and aquariums. (aquaria?)

i suppose it is a good thing for people who will never encounter a wild animal in the wild to see a live one in a controlled place. those of us fortunate enough to meet a wild animal on its terms get a better sense of actual wildness, and danger.

Floridacracker said...

Even allowing for that...I think I'm still ahead.

I am so not fun at Disney.

I understand that.

When I was little it was heaven to me since I've always been a fish lover.

I knew you would.

That Monterey aquarium has an amazing reputation. I'd like to see it.

I can work around a few dolphins sacrificing freedom for the species (especially since so many are captive born now), but I have never seen any oceanarium truly sized for an orca. To me, they should not be in captivity. Just me.

I agree. Danger is part of any real experience in the wild. THAT is one missing component of the pseudo experience.

rick said...

I saw one once in Casa Cola creek near shore in about 2 foot of water flapping its tail slowly moving parallel to shore then it flipped a flounder up into the air , caught it in mid air and proceeded deeper I assume to eat its catch.A few minutes later it came to shore and repeated the procees until another flounder met an unpleasant fate

Wayne said...

I'm old enough to have done the Marineland thing when my parents took us there, oh so many years ago. I didn't know I was a touron then, but I would be uncomfortably aware of it now.

My parents spent many years sailing long distances, often for months, replacing a previously smaller boat with an ever-larger one. Even the 33-footers though raised a large enough wake to interest and entertain dolphins, which in turn entertained us endlessly.

Floridacracker said...

You can't blame them, nothing tastes better. Wish I'd seen that.

If you sailed to're not really a touron. That must have been a great part of your childhood.

Laura said...

I'm late to comment and late to do anything blog-related these days, sorry.:(
But I do enjoy stopping by your site because so many of your posts remind me of familiar things here in Florida. For example, I had thought Marineland shut down for good! The last time we went there was in 1994 or '95 for a school field trip. I had the same feeling as you, the best dolphin is a wild dolphin.
Whenever we see them swimming locally, we consier ourselves lucky, very lucky indeed. My hub, however, gets a sinking feeling when he sees them swimming near the boat when he's fishing. They uh.. have been known to steal the bait and sometimes go after the fish on the hook. I'm not b*tching about them, however. it's just a fact of life here, isnt it! LOL
He just takes it all in stride.

I'm still hoping to see a manatee swimming free in these waters instead of in the aquariums. Right now,they're supposed to be hanging around the powerplants for warmth, so if I get a chance, maybe we'll take the boat out there.
My hub has seen them, but he goes out on the boat more often than I do.
Ok, I'm done rambling. ;)
sorry about your banana trees! :(

Floridacracker said...

You guys need to hit Crystal River. Lots of em there.

Debbie said...

I also live in north Florida and we run down to St. George Island whenever we get the chance. Over the years the dolphins have put on some great shows for us. Jumping and spinning in the air, using their tails to stun fish, playfully tossing fish around (I'm sure the fish were'nt too happy about that). Once I saw a dolphin do that little backward dance on his/her tail like they do in the "captive" shows. I've often wondered if that dolphin had escaped from a seaside marina. It's the only time that I ever saw a dolphin in the wild do that. Keep up the great writing. I love Florida so much and enjoy reading about other people's Florida experiences.

Floridacracker said...

Hey! I've seen the same tailwalking and wondered the same thing...was that an escapee? I guess they just like to show off.

Thanks for the really nice comment.

Floridacracker said...

Just looked at my site stats and this day was double the normal hits. Apparently if you want a jump in your counter, write about dolphins.

David Redman said...

As a former St. Augustine resident and employee of Marineland let me state that the new owners are NOT restoring/reviving the "old" Marineland. The new dolphin experience is in the old Whitney Park area and is a new, new, new facility which has nothing to do with the old Marine Studios/Marineland. The entire original 125-acre site has been chopped, subdivided and will soon be like everything else in Florida...developed to the Nth degree for commercial purposes. Ah, for the old Florida!