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Robert Niles

SeaWorld San Diego celebrates its 45th birthday

Published: March 21, 2009 at 8:34 PM

It's a week for theme park birthdays in Southern California. Yesterday, Legoland celebrated its 10th birthday. And today, SeaWorld San Diego celebrated its birthday - its 45th.

On March 21, 1964, the first SeaWorld opened on Mission Bay in San Diego, the brainstorm of four UCLA fraternity brothers. The opening day ceremonies were hosted by Art Linkletter, one of the celebrities who hosted the Disneyland opening less than a decade before.

One of the four park founders, George Millay, who passed away in 2006, became the park's first president, as well as its creative force. Under his direction, SeaWorld eventually expanded to Ohio and Orlando. (Millay, incidentally, went on to found the Wet n' Wild water park in Orlando after being ousted at SeaWorld.)

SeaWorld, of course, became more than ocean-themed amusement park, becoming an accredited zoo with a strong animal rescue program, and of course, a slew of animal shows.

Believe show at SeaWorld San Diego

In honor of SeaWorld's birthday, here are links to two stories I did on the park last summer, including my time in the tank with the park's beluga whales.

  • Theme Park Insider behind the scenes: with the trainers at SeaWorld San Diego
  • In the tank with SeaWorld San Diego's beluga whales
  • Replies (2)

    Anthony Murphy

    Published: March 22, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    I always forget about how old the Busch Parks really are! I keep thinking that the Magic Kingdom was the "first park" to start everybody else on the theme park business (Disneyland being the only other one). I am wrong of course! Good for them! I hope they get 45 more!
    Bruce Lane

    Published: March 22, 2009 at 9:51 PM

    So Sea World SD just turned 45? Interesting. I was not aware that they were, in fact, the first park of the chain. Now that I think about the timeline, it makes sense. They wanted to give Marineland in Palos Verdes a bit of competition, most likely, and I will grant that they have enjoyed much success.

    However, I would consider the following before deciding that Sea World gets all the "bragging rights," as it were.

    There is an oceanarium still in existence today (thriving, in fact) that has been around a lot longer. Although the idea of captive marine mammals dates back over a century, the first practical oceanarium (as in one that did not mean quick death for its inhabitants) first opened in 1937, in the form of Marineland near St. Augustine, Florida.

    That makes them ... let's see ... Ah! Seventy-two. That also makes them the oldest surviving ocean park in the United States. ;-)

    I would point out that while Sea World may get all the publicity, and consider themselves to be a tremendous success in many ways, none of their parks (nor very many others, for that matter) have come close to Marineland's records for something I think is far more important than any thrill-ride or tackily-scripted show: The successful long-term survival of captive dolphins.

    I'm referring, specifically, to one of Marineland's female bottlenose dolphins, name of Nellie. She just turned 56, which in human years would be about 104. And she's still going strong!

    You don't have to take my word for it. Read for yourself.

    What a fascinating park Marineland is! They never needed roller coasters or "theme" rides to survive into their seventh decade, nor has their considerable and obvious success stemmed from bizarre stage shows that, as someone once said to me, look like a cross between Cirque du Soleil (did I spell that right?) and the London Philharmonic.

    Sea World SD may indeed see their 90th. Who can tell? However, although I'm pretty sure I'll be gone before then (as I think many of us will), I would be very curious to see if they can keep going the way they're going and reach their 72nd (or even their 46th).

    I'm content to let history itself be the judge.

    Happy travels.

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