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Marine Studios
Florida Marineland01.jpg
Location Marineland, Florida
Built 1937
Architect John Walter Wood and M.F. Hasbrouch
Architectural style Moderne style
NRHP reference No. 86000831
Added to NRHP April 14, 1986

Marineland of Florida (usually just called Marineland), one of Florida's first marine mammal parks, is billed as "the world's first oceanarium". Marineland functions as an entertainment and swim-with-the-dolphins facility, and reopened to the public on March 4, 2006 (charging the original 1938 admission price of one dollar). In 2011, the park was purchased by the Georgia Aquarium for a reported $9.1 million.

History

Beginnings

Marineland of Florida porpoise 1963
Marineland porpoise with the 1963 Citrus Queen.
Marineland of Florida Moby the Whale 1964
Moby the Whale gets a dental checkup, 1964.

Marineland was first conceived by W. Douglas Burden, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Sherman Pratt, and Ilya Andreyevich Tolstoy (grandson of Leo Tolstoy) as an oceanarium that could be used to film marine life. A site was selected on the Atlantic Ocean south of St. Augustine, eventually known as the town of Marineland. The site of Marineland is within a 20,000-acre (8,100 ha) grant given to London barrister Levett Blackborne in 1767. The well-connected Blackborne, grandson of Sir Richard Levett, Lord Mayor of London, never settled his grant (nor even visited Florida), and eventually Blackborne's plantation was regranted to John Graham, a Georgia Loyalist fleeing the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, the land that is today Marineland was broken up over the years into smaller parcels.

Financing and construction presented challenges as Marineland was the first attempt at capturing and sustaining sea creatures. These challenges were overcome. Construction and engineering were carried out Arthur Franklin Perry Co. of Jacksonville. On June 23, 1938, "Marine Studios" (the name "Marineland of Florida" would later be adopted) began operations with its main attraction a bottlenose dolphin. Unexpectedly, over 20,000 tourists clogged Highway A1A to visit the new attraction. For many decades Marineland consisted of not only the oceanariums but several amenities including a motel (Marine Village Court, Marineland Motel and Quality Inn/Marineland); Dolphin Restaurant and Moby Dick Lounge; Periwinkle Snack Bar and Sandpiper Snack Bar; Marineland Marina; plus fruit shop and gift shop; and a pier at the north end of the facility. A Texaco service station was adjacent to the Periwinkle Snack Bar, and Greyhound Bus Lines stopped regularly during its St. Augustine to Daytona Beach run.

The total property area consisted of 125 acres (51 ha) sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Originally planned for the St. Augustine area, residents of that community did not look favorably on the attraction being located there; thus the new site south of Matanzas Inlet was chosen. It is also said that Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney chose the upper east coast of Florida due to the less frequency of hurricanes vs. other parts of Florida. There were two large tanks as the center piece of "Marine Studios" or as they were known as a Marine Studios coined name, oceanariums. Visitors upon entering would encounter the circular oceanarium from the south. The circular oceanarium nick named circ tank by staff was the home of dolphins and sometimes some groupers and pelicans. The circular oceanarium held 400,000 gallons of water circulated at 3,000 gallons per minute. This oceanarium was also 12 feet deep and 80 feet across. with some rocks laid in on the sandy bottom. The rectangular oceanariun nick named the rec tank by staff, held 450,000 gallons of water circulated at 2,500 gallons a minute. The rectangular oceanarium was home for an assortment of fish both local and tropical, sharks, eels, turtles and other marine life. This tank was 100 feet long and 40 feet wide at its widest point. The rectangular oceanarium was the largest of the Marine Studios tanks, it had two 12 foot deep sections, the northern and southern thirds, while the middle had a depth of 18 feet. The rectangular oceanarium was heated with an oil fired furnace down below deck to heat the tank during the cooler winter months to protect tropical fish. In keeping with the nautical them of the facility a ships snorkel smokestack was on the top deck for the furnace below. These two oceanariums were connected by "the flume" a shallow waterway between the two large tanks. The flume was gated keeping specimens in their respective oceanariums with water able to flow through the grated gates. The flume also was used anytime large animals needed to be moved to or from a transport vehicle. A large crane was built as part of the structure, from which nautical flags would fly keeping the "marine" theme of the facility. Below deck, corridors surrounded the two oceanariums lined with portholes into the tanks with a central passageway on the lowest level connecting both tanks so visitors could move from one oceanarium to the other below deck. The Aquarist Office was located on the middle deck on the south side of the circular oceanarium. All of this was considered the original "Marine Studios" including a biological station, front ticket office, announcers booth (originally located on top deck before being moved below deck on the central passageway), and other displays. Visitors coming in what was the original main entrance would walk under an arch with "Marineland 1938" upon a large rock and up a walkway past the famous "Fudge Kitchen" to a ticket office at the south end of the Marine Studios structure. From there visitors could observe from the top deck of the tanks or wander the hallways below and observe through the numerous portholes on both oceanariums.

The "porpoise stadium" with its show tank and holding tanks along with bleachers would be added in 1952 as the park rapidly expanded. The stadium would showcase "Flippy" the educated porpoise. During that time dolphins were locally known as porpoises even though a porpoise completely different type of marine mammal. The reasoning for this was not to confuse with the dauphin fish as well as it was widely used local slang at the time. The roof was added to the stadium in 1961 as the show and animals in it were expanded. Also in 1961, the name Marineland started being used as opposed to Marine Studios in marketing and promotion. Expansion continued as the main walkway had a roof added, then famous large arches were installed in 1968 with giant letters spelling out MARINELAND above the new stadium roof and allowed the facility to be seen from some distance off approaching north or south on A1A. The top deck of the circular oceanarium was also reconfigured. An administration building and a proper laboratory were also constructed west of A1A as growth continued. Even though the park was now billing itself as Marineland, the name Marine Studios would stick for some time and the "Studios Department" which managed most of the park would last until the end of 1987.

Salt water for the tanks and oceanariums was brought in by sets of pipes that ran under the sand 50 feet out into the ocean. Two pump stations called "galleries" pumped the water from that pipe to a filtration plant. Then the sea water was circulated through the oceanariums and out into the Intracoastal. A dedicated team of pump crews maintained the system 24 hours a day, keeping a vigilant eye on water levels and pump operations. Water was treated by copper sulfate to help reduce algae growth with lab crews monitoring the amounts used. This method of treatment was of the groundbreaking discoveries by Marineland crews and scientists.

Having the grandson of Leo Tolstoy involved in the project helped Marineland become a very fashionable destination in its early days, prompting writers Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway to visit Moby Dick's Bar located there. Ms. Rawlings was married to Norton Baskin who at one time (1950s/early 1960s) was the operator/manager of the Dolphin Restaurant/Moby Dick Lounge. The park's facilities were very popular with tourists and also used for numerous movies, including Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Revenge of the Creature (1955). The very first dolphin trainer in the world, Adolph Frohn started trained dolphins and developed "dolphin shows" which became an additionally draw in the early 1950s as Marineland became one of Florida's major attractions, attracting over 900,000 visitors per year with peak attendance in the mid-1970s. Further expansion westward occurred at this time including expanding the Sandpiper Snack Bar, and additions including the Playport playground, the Citrus Shop, Beachcomber Gift Shop, Shell Museum and the Aquarius 3D Theater. A few exhibits were added as well moving the electric eel show to the west side of the park from the east, all of these reached by winding landscaped pathways crossing a network of brooks and streams on wooden bridges. A centerpiece was a statue of King Neptune with dolphins in one of the larger ponds. Additional expansion through the 70's included Whitney Park north of the stadium, a featuring a boardwalk, exhibits and an observation deck. To the south a large and expanded hotel operated by Quality Inn was built east of A1A south of the old hotel.

Hard hat divers would feed fish, eels, turtles and dolphins by hand and jumpmasters and trainers would conduct dolphin shows 6 times a day. Announcers would inform visitors of upcoming programs by ringing bells over the PA system and announcing the nautical time translating it to standard time in keeping with the marine / ocean going theme of the park. The first show was presented at 9:30 am, with subsequent shows at 11:00 am, 12:30 pm, 2:00 pm, 3:30 pm and 4:50 pm (the time of the last show was shifted to 5:00 pm at some point). Each show started with the "jumping porpoises / dolphin show" on the top deck of the circular oceanarium. Here a Jumpmaster would have dolphins leaping into the air. When the show first started in the 1950s a platform was used but then in the early 1970s Marineland purchased a Skyworker unit, this was essentially a bucket on a movable arm suspended from two arches that met above the tank. The Jumpmaster could move the bucket around where dolphins leaped up to 16 ft above the surface of the water. The show then would transition downstairs, announcers guiding the crowds where a hard hat diver would feed the marine mammals by hand as visitors viewed through 188 portholes on two levels surrounding the tank. The diving operation was always two people, one on top deck to manage the air hose and monitor for safety and the diver in the water. Then the underwater show moved to the rectangular oceanarium with announcers guiding the crowd from one location to the next. The diver would transfer from one tank to the other above as visitors were guided via the hallways below to view the diver braving the sharks and moray eels among the fish in the rectangular tank. There were 120 portholes on split levels in which one could view the show. The show would then conclude with the crowd being directed to the stadium for the "educated porpoises" where dolphins went to school and demonstrated their skills guided by a team of trainers. Daily show staffing consisted of a Jumpmaster, two staff divers, two announcers and a number of stadium trainers to manage the shows. Marineland staff especially those who worked in the "Marine Studios" department wore nautical attire as uniforms with Jumpmasters wearing sailor suits and announcers wearing uniforms that resembled sea captains. There was more than just show staff to keep things running. Additional employees some were seasonal, included two aquarists, exhibit attendants, ticket takers, guides, custodians, pump crews, lab techs and tank cleaners as well as security.

The Aquarist positions were actually supervisory in nature and oversaw the operations of the Marine Studios department. Other departments also made Marineland work. These included the Stadium, lab, maintenance, water plant, gift shops, snack bar, theater, grounds crew, restaurant and administration. At one point Marineland was the largest employer in Flagler County with over 300 employees.

Other exhibits complemented the shows including "Wonders of the Sea" allowing a close up of marine specimens in aquariums, an electric eel demonstrations, a penguin and flamingo displays. Just east of the circular oceanarium was another tank that originally held fresh water dolphins, manatees then was used for a shark nursery for a while then was set up as fresh water spring in the 1980s. In between shows visitors could walk freely around the oceanariums and sometimes even play catch with a friendly dolphin on the top deck.

Another notable and unique item at Marineland was the fresh water system. Marineland of Florida operated a reverse osmosis water plant converting salt water to fresh water. The water plant supplied the entire park and subsequent expansions as well as a waste water plant. Treated waste water was sprayed by a huge sprayer called a "rain bird" that was located behind the Electric Eel exhibit on the western side of the property. Marineland was quite far from any water utility service and had to make their own. Electric power was from Florida Power and Light, however a large back up generator was on hand to keep critical systems running during extended power outages. When a power outage of even short duration occurred, the on duty pumpman was required to quickly restart the pumps or the tanks could start to drain. During a longer outage drains had to be closed to prevent the water from draining out. If an extended power outage occurred, the pumps could run on the back up generator, but many other systems could not.

Under the oceanariums a network of air and utility tunnels existed to allow crews access to valves and power cables. A large high wattage step down transformer was located directly under the circular oceanarium to help supply power to the Marine Studios facility.

The opening of Walt Disney World Resort in 1971 gave a major boost to the attraction's annual attendance. However, Sea World's entry into the Florida market eventually had a very negative impact on Marineland from the late 1970s through 2009. Many publications erroneously note the peak attendance as having been 300,000. The break-even admission point was actually 400,000, however, even during the 1950s.

Decline

Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, who was the major stockholder of the private company opted to sell the marine park in 1983 to a group of St. Augustine businessmen during the summer of that year. These new investors brought some new ideas to the park, some worked well some not so much.

Other ideas actually worked well and appeared to help the park. For a while the park held its own with fair attendance in the busier summer months with the ongoing traditional shows being complemented by a seasonal high dive show added in 1987 as well as other entertainment such a wandering magician to entertain guests and a sea lion show in Whitney Park. The show presentation order had been changed a few times during the mid 1980's in attempts to better accommodate visitors, with the first part still starting on the Top Deck then the stadium and ending underwater. There were a few experimental tweaks to this in 1985 and 1986. However in 1987 the show schedule was changed completely. The first show now started 30 minutes later at 10:00 am, then further shows at 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, 2:30 pm and the last show at 4:00pm which cut out the sixth show. The show organization was also changed once again. Shows now started in the Stadium for the educated dolphins, then the jumping dolphins on the top deck of the circular oceanarium with crowds guided by the announcers. Then the show would move into the underwater feeding portions below deck at the circular and rectangular tanks as the hard hat divers would feed dolphins and marine creatures by hand. These new changes seemed to work well and actually helped visitors find the show easier. A sea lion show was also added in Whitney Park adding further entertainment to Marineland.

Another large expansion occurred, this would be the last one with the original park, that came in the form of a camp ground. This was added on the southwest side of the property. The campground was affiliated with the Jellystone brand and came complete with a “ranger station” which worked as a gas station and small store.

Attendance actually was starting to edge upward from 1985 through 1987 likely propelled by these changes. However some significant changes were on the way.

A decision was made at the end of 1987 to make some significant and radical changes in an attempt to "modernize" the shows. The modernization scheme included the merger of the Stadium and Studios departments into the Department of Shows. Historically, this was significant as the "Studios Department" had existed since the park's inception and was the last entity in Marineland to carry the "Marine Studios" name. The modernization plan included the retirement of the famous hard hat diver helmets that had been in use since the first day of Marineland. They would be replaced with modern SCUBA. The older nautical themed uniforms were replaced, staff shuffled around, shows and other items were changed. When these changes came to be the attendance appeared to slide. Declining attendance, poor management decisions, expensive schemes that failed, bad luck and other issues, the group was unable to meet their loan payments and the attraction was again put on the market. Ownership change and uncertainty was normal from that point and the long range future was chaotic and uncertain.

Into the 1990s Marineland held its own but also faced additional challenges from government inspections. Increasing regulations and requirements were challenging to keep up with putting further burden on the cash strapped park. In the later 1990s due to the deteriorating financial situation many long time employees were laid off by the year 2000 leaving a skeleton crew in its place. Eventually the maintenance demands of the old park combined with series of hurricanes became too costly for the real estate investment group who owned it at that time. The facility began to sink into severe disrepair as the owners desperately sought a buyer.

Finally, through a convoluted deal involving junk bonds, the property was sold. The buyers planned to build time-share condominiums on most of the ocean hammock land but were unable to bring the plan to fruition. This effort resulted in bankruptcy for the buyers. In addition, the already-strapped oceanarium had been reconfigured as a non-profit foundation as part of the sale and was responsible for its own sustenance as well as repayment of the bond issue. Needed monies were not invested in repairs, and the shabby condition of the park offended even the most loyal fans with some things deteriorated so badly they became safety hazards. Leaky portholes were sealed up due to unsafe leaks and even chunks of concrete fell off in a few places. Due to deterioration, all the portholes on the lower level of the circular oceanarium had to be sealed. With no direct ownership, no funding, and the financial burden of bond interest payments, employees were left to cope with equipment failures, safety hazards, no marketing, loss of credit, bounced paychecks, further government inspections and the custodianship of the marine mammals, fish and birds. During this era, many devoted individuals and businesses contributed materials and services to help employees keep the place going. In the end, the foundation repaid the bondholders pennies on the dollar, a large part of Marineland's dolphin population was sold off to Orlando, and a new owner came in and picked up the pieces.

DolphinShow MarinelandOfFlorida
Dolphin Show

Rebirth

Hurricanes Floyd and Irene in 1999 forced the park to close for two months. Damage was extensive with the famous boardwalk destroyed, walkways to Whitney park collapsing due to erosion and even the filtration plant was under threat of falling into the ocean. Other buildings suffered damage including the iconic Marineland sign. In 2003, all of the park buildings west of Highway A1A were demolished leaving only the original structures along the Atlantic Ocean. as well as the original administrative building. In 2004, the park closed completely for renovations after being battered by three more hurricanes and reopened on March 4, 2006 as the Marineland Dolphin Adventure which is now operated by Georgia Aquarium. Today modern equipment and highly trained staff attend to the animals and visitors who still come to the park today.

During the renovations the original 1938 Circular Oceanarium (400,000 US gallons (1,500,000 l; 330,000 imp gal)) and Rectangular Oceanarium (450,000 US gallons (1,700,000 l; 370,000 imp gal)) were demolished. The old Marineland lab was also demolished. Large tanks and a new structure was built where Whitney Park once stood which would become the centerpiece of the new Marineland. This facility includes modern buildings, equipment and a small museum featuring artifacts of Marineland of old. Where the original oceanariums once stood became a parking area with the old entrance, walkway and gift shop being the only original structures left on the east side of A1A. The new facility also received water from an expansion of the City of Palm Coast utility system, a new water line installed along A1A due to development in the area.

The age of the original Dolphin Show at Marineland ended as the park transformed, reopened as a hands-on educational facility as the Marineland Dolphin Adventure. Guests can now interact directly with the dolphins in the new facility as well see other marine life. Future plans for the area included a condominium development on former park lands however that has yet to occur. Western portions of Marineland have been redeveloped with student lodging for the Whitney Lab and other research entities. A new Marina has also been built along the Intracoastal. The rest of the old Marineland property including lands where the hotel and campground once stood became the property of Flagler County and now make up the River to the Sea Preserve, one of the county's many parks.

With a gift from Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney of slightly more than 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land together with his donation of about half of the total constructions costs, on January 30, 1974 the University of Florida opened the Whitney Marine Laboratory adjacent to Marineland. This laboratory's purpose was the experimental study of marine animals but it was separate from the lab that was once operated by Marineland. Marine Studios through their Research Facility contributed greatly to the understanding of porpoises / dolphins thanks to Arthur McBride, Forrest Wood, David and Melba Caldwell and other marine biologists and scientists. The staff at Marineland had a "first responder team" for hundreds of whale strandings along the southeastern Atlantic Coast during its existence. The old Marineland lab was demolished in the renovations in 2003.

Three bottlenose dolphins were born at the newly constructed Dolphin Conservation center in July 2008, two males and one female. The calves were named in November 2008.

In January 2011, Marineland was sold again and is currently being operated as a subsidiary of Georgia Aquarium. In 2019 the park was sold once again to Dolphin Discovery who currently operates the park.

The facility, now named Marineland Dolphin Adventure, offers several dolphins encounters, educational programs, and conducts research to help care for marine life in human care and in the wild. The current facility and staff provide modern medical care to the marine mammals in a large modern and well kept facility. The tradition and dream started by Marine Studios in 1938 continues today.

Dolphins

14 bottlenose dolphins : Betty 3 (F-50 years old), Lightning (M-37 years old), Sunny (M-35 years old), Shaka (F-36 years old), Dazzle (F-32 years old), Niele (M-26 years old), Zac (M-26 years old), Casique (F-18 years old), Briland (M-17 years old), Tocio (F-12 years old), Aqe (M-12 years old), Boomer (M-5 years old), Oli (M-4 years old) and Surge (M-4 years old).

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