We went to Marineland today, the first time I’ve been there since it re-opened as a “hands-on education facility”. It was a much different experience that it had been in the past. The old Marineland is long gone. The new Marineland is a sterile shell of the old Florida attraction it was. There are still dolphin there, and it’s still next to the ocean just across the Volusia County line. But the similarities end there.
The still pay homage to the history of the place. A movie lot, tourist attraction, the nations’ first “Oceanarium”. In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, a half million people a year flocked to Marineland. Over the years, as Orlando and it’s bright lights and theme parks drew the tourists to the middle of the state, Marineland, like so many other of the states’ roadside attractions, fell on hard times. The oceanariam tank, where Jenni got one of her “open water” checkout dives, and Andie and I went diving as well, fell into such disrepair that it had to be torn down. The exhibits are gone as well, or at least in storage. The fish, sharks, and penguins have been loaned out to somewhere, and the day of the dolphin show is over at Marineland.
It’s a little bit sad.
But you can still see the dolphin.
Now, they live in a new, several hundred million gallon tank with lots of Plexiglas for your viewing pleasure. For a scant $330, you can get up close and personal with the dolphin, including a 45 minute swim. We only paid the $8 for the privilege of walking up to the tank and peering through the Plexiglas. But it did provide some fun family photo opportunities.
The dolphin knew we were there. It was obvious they could see us through the Plexiglas as well as we could see them. They would swim up to the window, look, pose, sometimes act goofy, and swim away. The mom and her youngster swam along in formation for a while, the juvenile tucked up under his mom. For living in a tank, rather than the open ocean, they are very well taken care of, and they seemed to be having fun.
Including playing basketball, after a fashion. We were surprised the first time one of the basketballs came sailing over the wall. The dolphin could see the ball through the Plexiglas, and you could tell they wanted it back. Occasionally, no sooner would we toss the ball back over the wall than it would come sailing back in a spray of water. These guys wanted to play.
They could dribble, too. The larger dolphin could hold the ball in their mouth, and literally dribble it under the water. Then pick it up with their nose and flick it over the wall. We were all only too glad to play along.
My friend Brendal Stevens down in Abaco says no dolphin should ever be kept in captivity. And I don’t necessarily disagree with him. But these dolphin have never known anything other than the Marineland tank. It’s unlikely they’d survive in the wild. And because they are where they are, it gave us a chance to get closer than we’d be able to anywhere other than on one of Brendals’ wild dolphin encounters.
Except when we tried that last summer, we didn’t find any dolphin. It gives us an excuse to go back and try it again, not that we need one.