Today Marineland Dolphin Adventure celebrates Nellie’s 60th birthday; the bottle-nosed dolphin, was born on February 27, 1953 in the salt-water tanks at Marine Studios on the St Johns and Flagler county border located at 9600 Oceanshore Boulevard.
Although Nellie absolutely holds the record for being the oldest dolphin born in a marine park and remaining in human care, it is likely that she is also the oldest dolphin in human care anywhere in the world.
“Nellie has begun to show her age and often prefers snoozing in the sun,” said Billy Hurley, Chief Zoological Officer and Senior Vice President for the Georgia Aquarium; who owns Marineland Dolphin Adventure. “It’s very similar to watching a grandparent grow older, you don’t think much of it until they reach a point; and then, you see them and think — wow.”
Nellie can be easily identified by her large size, large curved dorsal fin and dark coloration. Both of Nellie’s parents, “Susie” and “Happy”, were part of the Marine Studios family, and, at Marineland in 1984, Nellie delivered a son who is appropriately named “Sunny”.
For many years, Nellie’s traditional celebration included a dolphin-safe, fish-and-ice cake made especially for the birthday girl, along with a round of “Happy Birthday” performed by all of her friends and fans. Last year, Marineland staff presented Nellie with a colorful “ice cream” cake — made entirely of unflavored gelatin.
Nellie is as big a celebrity at Marineland today, and certainly as loved, as she was at a younger age when she performed stunts in the stadium tank of Marine Studios for crowds that once numbered in the thousands daily.
“Those were the days before Sea World and Disney; I am so thankful that Nellie made it through the lean years that followed,” Historic City News editor Michael Gold added. “As a teenager, I worked there as a ticket-taker; it was the best summer job in the area.”
Even if you can’t stop by today, you can wish Nellie a Happy Birthday, and share your favorite Nellie memories on the Marineland facebook.
Founded in 1937 as Marine Studios, Marineland began as an underwater film studio. In 1938 it was opened to the public as the “Worlds First Oceanarium.” Large porthole windows on the side of the Oceanarium gave many their first glimpse at the beauty and diversity of the ocean. Marineland pioneered dolphin training in the 1940’s and the animals soon became the stars of elaborate performances where they exhibited aerial acrobatics. The ever growing popularity of bottlenose dolphins, conservation, and education resulted in Marineland evolving from a show stadium environment to a new habitat that allows guests to meet dolphins up close. Today guests enjoy an educational experience swimming, touching, feeding, and even painting with dolphins.