Marineland

Marineland

High atop the pristine California cliffs of the Palos Verdes peninsula lies the remains of a once-magical wonderland, where dolphins, pilot whales, and killer whales delighted millions of fans with their aquatic antics. A decade before there was Sea World in San Diego, there was “Marineland of the Pacific.”

Marineland opened in 1954 and, at the time, was the world’s largest public aquarium. It was also one of California’s first theme parks, offering a number of shows and exhibits. Certainly, the biggest stars of Marineland were Orky and Corky, two performing killer whales, as well as a pilot whale by the name of Bubbles. Guests squealed in delight as the killer whales would gracefully soar through the air and upon returning to the seawater, proceed to splash a few hundred gallons of it into the first few rows of tourists.

A somewhat dryer experience could be had at the sea lion show, where these intelligent critters performed a number of feats, most involving the obligatory beach balls and musical horns. Marineland also introduced guests to a swim-through underwater experience called the Baha Reef Exhibit, the first of its kind.

Sadly, when Marineland was purchased by the HBJ Corporation in 1986, it was really beginning to show its age. Despite their promise to keep the park open, HBJ closed the park a mere 6 weeks after acquiring it. Orky and Corky part deux (who had replaced the original orkas that died in the early 70’s) took a late night trek south to Sea World in San Diego. Fans might be happy to know that Corky the second is still there. You may know him by his new name: Shamu.

From 1986 until last year, ghostly remains of the once-popular amusement park stood silent; disheveled from neglect and weathered by the hands of time. The once popular sky tower stood watch over the deserted park until it was finally disassembled in 1995. In 2006, what remained of Marineland was finally demolished to make room for the future $320 million dollar “Terrasea Resort”.

During its existence, a number of TV shows were filmed at Marineland. You may have seen it in The Beverly Hillbillies, Sea Hunt, and Hart to Hart. The Flintstones even offered their own stone-age representation, the “Oceanrock Aquarium,” in the episode you might remember where Dripper (a sealasaurus) follows the family home after a day at the marine park. And, after Marineland finally closed, it became a popular filming site. Movies such as The Aviator and Pearl Harbor were filmed partly on location of the former site.

And while Marineland may be no more in California, a few places around the world still carry on the Marineland name, such as the Marineland dolphin conservation center in Florida, and Marineland in Ontario, Canada, which is part oceanarium and part amusement park. A similar park in New Zealand closed in 2008, while another park in Antibes, France is still going strong and drawing over a million visitors a year.

And, of course, Marineland’s influence can still be felt in the other assorted oceanariums, such as Sea World, which has parks in San Diego, San Antonio, Ohio and Florida. Still, there was only one true Marineland, a place where orka and dolphins flew through hoops of fire and delighted audiences of all ages for many decades. For many of us, it was the first place we ever experienced the magnificent aquatic animals of the sea.

If you ever had the opportunity to visit this now-extinct tourist attraction, we’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to the fun that was Marineland.

14 Responses to “Marineland”

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  1. Bob says:

    Wow Bubbles the whale, it’s been years since I was there, mid 60’s I was probably 5.

  2. Pat DeLamar says:

    It was wonderful. I took my elderly uncle there and he was amazed to see real fish and sharks and whales actually alive and swimming. It was a special delight and we all miss it.

  3. Smudge says:

    Marineland is one of my very first memories. I think I was 2 or 3 years old, so that had to be in 1964 or 65. We (Dad, Mom and me) were sitting pretty far up in the stands watching a show and I remember taking my shoe off for some reason. Of coarse I dropped it and it fell down somewhere at the bottom of the stands. I remember my Dad went to go look for it and pretty much missed the show. Somehow he found it and that’s about all I remember about Marineland. Years later I found and bought an original Marineland souvenir glass at a thrift store because it reminds me of that day. I also remember in the 70’s watching a rerun of “Here’s Lucy” that had Lucy going to Marineland.

  4. I remember Marineland from the late 1960s.When my grandparents would visit from
    England that was one of our favorite places to go.Although I was pretty young then
    and my memories are vague,more familiar w/ Sea World,I do remember Marineland
    and wondered what became of it.Thanks for your fun info and site.

  5. Jean Drumm says:

    I seem to remember Mable, she was a whale, too. I grew up there and went frequently as a child. What a wonderful place.

  6. Clare says:

    Marineland of the Pacific was such a terrific place! I went there many times as a child and loved Bubbles and all the animals there. I could stare into those huge fish tank windows and pretend I was under the sea. The last time I went to Marineland around 1985 I had a wonderful time; delighted to see Bubbles and her dolphin pals again, Orky and Corky, Zippy and Smiley, the sea lions and walruses, all the park’s animals, and of course the Giant Fish tank. If I had a crystal ball I would have taken lots of pictures and shopped the gift shop for souvenirs, but I had no way of knowing that day would be my last visit. Marineland opened before I was born – I just assumed it would always be there. What a sad day that was in 1987 when Marineland closed forever. I still mourn the loss of that fabulous place and it’s animals that gave so many people such great joy. It was much more than an oceanarium/ amusement park and even though it is gone now, Marineland will always live on in the fond memories of people who loved it.

    • John Farr says:

      Was it marine land in the 60s that sold wax replicas of dolphins and killer whales in the entrance that were made in the coin operated machine?

      • Kim says:

        John, yes! I was thinking about those just the other day and Googled Marineland now while watching a So.Cal. newsreel on TCM that features this cool place from our childhood!

  7. Janell Gardner says:

    Ok, I’m SO EXCITED to see so many peeps recall all of the wonderful things about Marineland! I have had a few memories that is SWEAR happened but I can’t ever get anyone to say they recall it as well but the main 2 that happened @ Marineland (or what I believe did & need some verification somehow) are:

    *there was a huge swimming area where you got into wetsuits (I remember doing this on a girl scout field trip & it involved a very lengthy snorkeling lesson, parent permission, height, age, & swim requirements is all I can recall I would say I was about 10 1985ish) & were allowed to swim over small sharks & all kinds of “safe as long as you don’t bug them sea life”. I remember being told to never stop swimming, DO NOT put your feet down, & entering into a shallow area that had a walking small bridge straight ahead to swim under. I didn’t know the girl closest to me bc my friend chickened out & ran back to the swimsuit area but this girl had to be a part of some girl scout group, just not mine. Anyway, as I started to go under the bridge looking @ tiny baby sharks swimming under me this girl panicked! I decided to float on my back & try to remind her to not step down (we didn’t have fins, maybe water socks or bare feet). So she continued to panic about the combo of real sea life & going under the bridge & puts her foot down on a freaking shark of all things! Out of pure defense (her foot prob stunk (;) the baby shark bit her. It was probably very superficial but water mixed with blood is what horror movies are made from. Lol, she starts flopping like she’s been bit by jaws & I start thinking that shark’s like blood, they’re gonna attack, the employees start emptying us out quickly(I can’t remember seeing anymore of the snorkeling tour bc she messed it up BUT… did this really happen? If yes, was it Marineland or somewhere else. Also remember being at these underground huge tanks that walked out to an ocean view. Inside the tanks were the BIGGEST walruses of have ever seen! They would swim back then blow full force into the glass as hard as they could. I’ve Always wanted to go back there but no one can tell me where that was. I also have to say that 90p% of the peeps in know my age from Southern California have never heard of Marineland & believe I’m getting confused & mean sea world so at least I know 1 out of 3 are REAL! Please let me know what you think… I’m either a great dreamer or these things really did take place!

    • Erin says:

      Sounds like Marineland of the Pacific to me! I never got to swim in “Baja Reef” because I wasn’t old enough. We lived about ten miles from the park from 1986-1989. I remember when the park shut down- at first I was assured that it wasn’t going to shut down, but sort of over night, the news changed. I can remember attending an Easter sunrise service at the park the same year that it was shut down. Fond memories.

  8. Chris says:

    A few months ago my wife & I took are daughter to sea world. It was the first time I had been there since about 1986.And even though it was quit impressive, I could not stop remembering “Marineland”. My wife never had the chance to go there when it was still around. When we came back I went a witch hunt so to speak, trying to find out all I could about the long forgotten wonder that once was. That was how I came across this site. As I write this I have my Dad digging threw boxes of old slides I know we have pictures of it in there some where. One I can recall is of the Great White shark they had for a bit back in the early 80’s .
    Sea World is fun and all, but it is so over the top Marineland was a fun family adventure that you could interact and sea the sea life up close (Baja Reef) Not as big as Sea world but more close to the heart. We had many trips to Marineland, My parents would go off and do there thing while I stood at the shark tank all day long.(Sea Worlds is a huge let down).
    I can go on and on I had not thought about it much since it closed but after our trip it has been on my mind so very much. I wish I could take my daughter there she is in love with Orcas and other sea animals. I guess it just makes me sad to sea the pictures and know its a hotel now and all thats left are distant memories of my youth.(If you had goon there you know what I mean).
    But on a brighter side…. There is a little teeny, weeny itsy bitsy little aquarium under the Santa Monica pier. Not as grand as Marineland was, but it has that closeness with ocean animals that you used to find only at Marineland. It is something like $5.00 for an adult and kids under five are free ( I think) either way it is worth a look at. If my Dad finds those slides I will try to find a way to put them up so every one can see Thanks

  9. Felicia Stephenson says:

    My parents took me there when I was a young teen and I remember swimming with the sharks, They suited us up in wet suits and gave us a snorkel. All my mom could hear from the surface was me breathing frantically through the snorkel as my dad kept trying to get me to follow him through the maze from start to finish. I didn’t hear anybody. All I wanted to do was to look for ledges in the reef that I could stand on to get me out of the water as much as possible. I remember a baby shark about 4feet long swimming toward me while I was in ankle deep water waiting to be rescued. I’m sure it was beautiful but my fear took over and that’s my only memory of that day :( They are amazing creatures and I’ve been in love with sharks ever since but I avoid their habitat like the plague! It is pretty cool to be able to say that I’ve swam with sharks.

  10. stephanie stavropoulos says:

    I remember going to marineland with my family the first time/year we ever visited california: 1973. It was a blast!! There’s even a photo of me standing in with my head inside a diver’s helmet!

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