Marineland’s 60 Year Anniversary

Photo by Barry Thompson

In August of 1954, Marineland of the Pacific opened to the public for the first time.  Located at the current site of the Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the park overlooked coves that had once been used by whalers. Marineland was a revolutionary concept in marine zoos, costing 5 million dollars to build.

Mammals were housed in something they dubbed an “Oceanarium.” According to the architect, William Pereira, the Oceanarium “consistes [sic] of two huge steel salt-water tanks, one round (80′ in diameter), the other, oval (50′ x 100′).  Continuous, double-glazed viewing windows of heat-tempered polished plate glass occur around the sides of the tanks…” Nowadays it would be shocking to keep sea mammals in such small tanks (or any tanks at all, really), but at the time, Marineland was the largest and most animal-friendly aquarium that existed. Fresh salt water was pumped in directly from the sea with an elaborate filtering system.

Marineland’s main attractions were two orcas, dubbed “Orky” and “Corky.” The popular tourist attraction was also home to “Bubbles,” the first pilot whale in captivity. The park created the first swim-through aquarium, allowing people to snorkel amongst sharks in its Baja Reef. They were pioneers in researching formula for baby marine animals and dolphin echolocation. They used to have a rescue unit and animal hospital. When injured animals were found on the beach, Marineland’s clinic was prepared to rehabilitate them.

Imagine the shock felt by the locals in 1986 when news broke of Marineland’s sale to Sea World. The parent company, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, promised the community that the park would remain intact and open. But it was well-known within the community that Sea World was buying up all of the Orcas in captivity. Sure enough, in January of 1987 the gates were locked forever and the two orcas, Orky and Corky were moved to Sea World San Diego. Orky died within a year. Corky is still alive, which is amazing since she was captured in 1969, and still performs as Shamu at Sea World.

Now we have all seen “Blackfish” and changed our minds about keeping orcas in captivity. In spite of its dark history, and in spite of its tragic ending, many people who grew up in the South Bay will always have fond memories of Marineland.

All photos by my Dad, Barry Thompson

Marineland of the Pacific Historical Society

LAistory: In Southern California Whales Can Fly, or Not

The City of Rancho Palos Verdes

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Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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