The public has long held a fascination for the plethora of aquatic critters lurking below the ocean surfaces. Shows like The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau captivated millions in the 60s and 70s by offering a glimpse of this sparsely explored environment from the comforts of their own living room. For those a little more adventurous, Sea world has offered a way to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures for over four decades. They aren’t the first oceanarium (Marineland holds that distinction), but over the years they have grown to become one of the best known providers of undersea entertainment, while always keeping their emphasis on research, education and conservation efforts.
So, to whom do we owe our gratitude for making Sea World a reality? A group of four UCLA students with a dream of opening an underwater restaurant. An ambitious idea to be sure, but one fraught with unsolvable difficulties. In the end, the quartet opted to build a theme park instead and chose beautiful San Diego, California as its home. Opening in 1964, Sea World debuted with rather sparse offerings, but that didn’t stop almost a half-million people from visiting in its first year of operation. With this success under their belts, Sea World decided to open another park in Ohio. Although it faced the challenges of operating an oceanarium in a place accustomed to harsh winters, the new park thrived as well, leading to additional parks in Orlando, Florida (1973) and San Antonio, Texas (1988). Sea World also bought Marineland of the Pacific in 1977, then promptly closed it, moving the animals to the San Diego location (and effectively eliminating the local competition).
One of the biggest attractions at Marineland (in both size and popularity) was the killer whale team of Orky and Corky. When Sea World closed Marineland, Corky was given a new name – Shamu – as well as his very own show. The Shamu Show proved so popular that the big guy (or gal) would eventually become the official mascot of Sea World. Today, Sea World names all of their captive Orcas “Shamu” just to keep things simple.
Along with Shamu, guests can observe a number of aquatic species at the parks, including dolphins, sharks, penguins, sea lions, polar bears and walruses. Over the years, Sea World has also incorporated a number of rides and attractions, such as sky rides, observation towers and roller coasters – some of which get riders as wet as if they were sitting front row for the Shamu Show.
Beer conglomorate Anheuser-Busch bought the entire chain of Sea World parks in 1989, pumping some serious funds into the parks to make them truly a world-class attraction. The exception was the Ohio park which was sold to Six Flags Entertainment in 2001, and incorporated into the Six Flags Worlds of Adventure amusement park. A few years later, they opted to turn the property into a Water Park, removing the aquatic wildlife completely.
Fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the three remaining Sea World parks remain ever popular, drawing millions of visitors each year, who come to watch the charismatic dolphins do tricks, pet a manta ray, or get soaked on the Journey to Atlantis water coaster. And, of course, they come to see their old friend Shamu.
If you hold fond memories of visiting any of the Sea World parks, we hope you’ll share them with all of us in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Shamu and the gang for over forty years of smiles, and saturation.