Being able to view animals in their natural habitats is a pleasure and a gift. I see dolphins and manatees regularly in the Indian River Lagoon but each time is still special. So, it is not often that I visit zoos or aquaria, especially those that double as theme parks.

Nevertheless, I know that many zoos and aquaria operate very differently now than in the past. Sometimes, these artificial habitats are the last refuges for endangered species. Scientific breeding programs, with cooperation among institutions, may result in saving a species or perhaps lead to a reintroduction to the wild.

Research in captivity provides knowledge about animal biology, genetics, and behavior. Visitors learn as well, not only about species they may not otherwise get to see, but also about threats to natural habitats, and what can be done to preserve them.

Marineland is a case in point. Because it had been years since I first visited the park, I decided to stop by for lunch on the same day that I went to Washington Oaks Gardens, located only three miles away. I was curious to see if Marineland had changed in recent years, as I had heard. And change it had!

I learned on Marineland’s website that the facility opened in 1938 as Marine Studios, used for filming underwater scenes in Revenge of the Creatures (1955) and Benji at Marineland (1981), for example. Later, the name changed to Marineland, touted as the World’s First Oceanarium. When I visited in the 1990’s, trained dolphin performances were a main attraction.

Not so anymore. Seeing dolphins is still wonderful reason to visit, and they still do “tricks,” but not primarily for entertainment, or shows. As a trainer explained to us, dolphins need to display fins, flippers and tails (flukes), or open their mouths on command as part of physical exams. Observing dolphins interact with humans provides information about dolphin behavior and, it seems, is a diversion for both species.

What a treat it was for me to watch dolphins jump in the air, play with balls, and interact with each other, their trainers, and visitors. Without any cues, dolphins threw balls out of the tank to spectators, who were urged by trainers and docents to throw them back, “as quickly as possible.”

The dolphin tank, a 1.3 million gallon habitat, has several large plexiglass portals for underwater viewing. In addition, an elevated deck provides a view of dolphins leaping high into the air. One female dolphin, for reasons only known to her, pressed her body against one of the portals and peered at us over the edge of the tank. Luckily, my camera was pointed that way!

Educational placards are posted around the tank and viewing platform. Trainers and volunteers are eager to share information and answer any questions. For example, we learned that the most of the dolphins at Marineland were born there, and not taken from the wild. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) prohibits collecting marine mammals in the US. On my visit, I watched the antics of three babies born in June 2008. I also “met” Nellie, born at Marineland 55 years ago.

Marineland offers many programs for closer interaction with the dolphins, including some that are “in the water.” I was content to just watch and photograph the dolphins, and came away hoping that Marineland will be around for many years to come. Lyn .

3 Responses to “Marineland, it’s All about the Dolphins”

  1. Karyn Says:

    I think that’s such a great shot. Especially the way you got the little boy’s head in there, and the two species are regarding each other. And I obviously am no dolphin expert, but it does have a playfulness about it. Now I want to go see the dolphins! 😀

  2. Lyn Says:

    Thank you, Karyn. Come visit!

  3. Lyn Says:

    Thanks to Joan Whittemore, Director of Sales and Marketing, Marineland, for emailing me about the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Joan also shared that Nellie will turn 56 on February 27, 2009; a birthday party is planned. Joan wrote, “Last year she was presented with an honorary Master’s degree in Marine Biology from Jacksonville University by the school’s president, Dr. Kerry Romesburg. It was awarded for all her years as the school’s mascot.”

    Happy Birthday, Nellie!

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