Marine mammal park

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An orca performs as "Shamu" at SeaWorld San Diego

A marine mammal park (also known as marine animal park and sometimes oceanarium) is a commercial theme park or aquarium where marine mammals such as dolphins, beluga whales and sea lions are kept within water tanks and displayed to the public in special shows. A marine mammal park is more elaborate than a dolphinarium, because it also features other marine mammals and offers additional entertainment attractions. It is thus seen as a combination of a public aquarium and an amusement park. Marine mammal parks are different from marine parks, which include natural reserves and marine wildlife sanctuaries such as coral reefs, particularly in Australia.


Sea Lion Park opened in 1895 at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York City with an aquatic show featuring 40 sea lions. It closed in 1903.

The second marine mammal park, then called an oceanarium, was established in St. Augustine, Florida in 1938. It was initially a large water tank used to exhibit marine mammals for filming underwater movies, and only became later a public attraction. Today Marineland of Florida claims to be "the world's first oceanarium".

In November 1961, Marineland of the Pacific on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, near Los Angeles in California was the first park to display an orca in captivity, although the orca died after two days.[1] The Vancouver Aquarium was responsible for the first orca ever held alive in captivity, Moby Doll, for 3 months in 1964.[2]

Between the 1970s and the 1990s, technical advances and the public's increasing interest in aquatic environments prompted a shift to large marine mammal parks with cetaceans (mostly orcas and other species of dolphin) as attractions. Within this time SeaWorld USA evolved as the most prominent chain of marine mammal parks, with operations in Orlando, Florida, San Diego, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Aurora, Ohio (which has since closed down).

List of parks[edit]


Name Location External link
Ocean Park Hong Kong Wong Chuk Hang (Hong Kong) Ocean Park Hong Kong


Name Location External link
Dolphin Marine Conservation Park Coffs Harbour (Australia) Dolphin Marine Conservation Park
Sea World Gold Coast, Queensland (Australia) Sea World Australia
Sea Life Sunshine Coast Mooloolaba, Queensland (Australia) Sea Life Sunshine Coast


Name Location External link
Dolfinarium Harderwijk Harderwijk (Netherlands) Dolfinarium Harderwijk
Marineland (Antibes) Antibes (France) Marineland Antibes
Mediterraneo Marine Park Malta Mediterraneo Marine Park
Loro Parque Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife (Spain) Loro Parque
Onmega Dolphintherapy Center Marmaris, Mediterranean (Turkey) Onmega Dolphin Therapy Center

North America[edit]

Name Location External link
Miami Seaquarium Miami, FL (USA) Miami Seaquarium - Miami, FL
Discovery Cove Orlando, FL (USA) Discovery Cove - Orlando, FL
Delphinus Dreams Cancún Cancun, Q.Roo (Mexico) Delphinus Dreams - Cancun
Delphinus Riviera Maya Riviera Maya, Q.Roo (Mexico) Delphinus - Riviera Maya
Delphinus Xcaret Riviera Maya, Q.Roo (Mexico) Delphinus - Xcaret
Delphinus Xel-Ha Riviera Maya, Q.Roo (Mexico) Dephinus - Xel-Ha
Delphinus Costa Maya Costa Maya, Q.Roo (Mexico) Delphinus - Costa Maya
Dolphin Discovery Isla Mujeres, Q. Roo (Mexico) Dolphin Discovery - Cancún, Isla Mujeres
Dolphin Discovery Cozumel, Q. Roo (Mexico) Dolphin Discovery - Cozumel
Dolphin Discovery Riviera Maya, Q. Roo (Mexico) Dolphin Discovery - Puerto Aventuras
Dolphin Research Center Marathon, FL (USA) Dolphin Research Center - Marathon, FL
SeaWorld San Diego, California (United States) SeaWorld USA
SeaWorld Orlando, Florida (United States) SeaWorld USA
SeaWorld San Antonio, Texas (United States) SeaWorld USA
Sea Life Park Hawaii Oahu, Hawaii (USA) Sea Life Park Hawaii
Sea Life Park Vallarta Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit (Mexico) Sea Life Park Vallarta
Marineland of Florida St. Augustine, Florida (United States) Marineland of Florida
Marineland of Canada Niagara Falls, Ontario (Canada) Marineland of Niagara
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Vallejo, California (USA) Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Theater of the Sea Islamorada, Florida Keys, Florida (United States) Theater of the Sea

South America[edit]

Name Location External link
Mundo Marino San Clemente del Tuyu (Argentina) Mundo Marino San Clemente del Tuyu

Criticism and animal welfare[edit]

Nationwide ban on dolphinariums/marine mammal captivity
De facto nationwide ban on dolphinariums/marine mammal captivity due to strict regulations
Some subnational bans on dolphinariums/marine mammal captivity
Dolphinariums/marine mammal captivity are currently being phased out ahead of a nationwide ban
Dolphinariums/marine mammal captivity legal
No data

Many animal welfare groups, such as the WSPA, consider keeping whales and dolphins in captivity a form of abuse. The main argument is that whales and dolphins do not have enough freedom of movement within their artificial environments. The existence of marine mammal parks is thus very controversially discussed.

Although sizable pools for whales and dolphins require an extraordinarily technical and financial expenditure and are usually nearly impossible to provide and maintain, many marine mammal parks endeavour to improve the conditions of captivity and attempt to engage in public education as well as scientific studies. For that purpose many marine mammal parks joined together in the "Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums", an international association dedicated to high standard of care of marine mammals. It was founded in 1987 and established offices near Washington, DC, in 1992. One report found that there is little objective evidence to indicate that marine mammal parks furthers public knowledge.[3]

In 2010, the practice of keeping animals in captivity as trained show performers was heavily criticized when a trainer was killed by an orca whale at SeaWorld Orlando in Florida.[4] Orcas attacks have been documented in the film Blackfish, released in 2013. In 2015, the California Coastal Commission banned the breeding of captive killer whales.[5]


  • Lou Jacobs, Wonders of an oceanarium: The story of marine life in captivity. Golden Gate Junior Books, 1965.
  • Joanne F. Oppenheim, Oceanarium. Bantam Books, 1994. ISBN 0-553-09520-X
  • Reed M. Swim with Dolphins Guide: A Guide to Wild Dolphin Swims, Dolphin Swim Resorts and Dolphin Assisted Therapy 2012.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eye to Eye with Orky and Corky". Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  2. ^ The Capture of Orcas. Archived October 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "The Case Against MARINE MAMMALS IN CAPTIVITY" (PDF).
  4. ^ Talk of the Nation (2010-03-01). "Limited Understanding Of Animals In Theme Parks". NPR. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  5. ^ "California bans captive breeding of SeaWorld killer whales". The Guardian. 9 October 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2016.

External links[edit]