This is the story of Sea World, a theme park where the wonders of nature are performed, marketed, and sold.
As one of the premier attractions in San Diego, with its trademark star, Shamu the killer whale—as well as performing dolphins, pettable sting rays, and reproductions of pristine natural worlds—the park represents a careful coordination of shows, rides, and concessions built around the theme of ocean life.
For 41 years, Sea World has been an exciting exploration of the role played by nature and animals in contemporary commercial culture, appealing to adrenaline enthusiasts, show lovers and families alike.
And lucky for us, we have the opportunity to explore this popular marine attraction during our IAAPA journey. Before your ‘show’ begins, here’s your taste of what’s to come:
San Diego is where it all began – this is the original Sea World.
It’s got a lot of history too – opening March 1964 on the southwest side of Mission Bay.
And one simple idea can lead to spectacular results. Sea World originated with four UCLA fraternity brothers – Milton Shedd, Ken Norris, David DeMott and George Millay – who wanted to open a restaurant with a marine show. Instead, they wound up opening a giant aquarium, and with a starting investment of $1.5 million, Sea World San Diego opened. At the time, the park employed 45 employees and had a handful of sea lions and one saltwater aquarium.
Oh, and it’s pretty big. 189 acres in fact.
Sea World’s three aquariums – Aquarium de la Mer, World of the Sea and Freshwater – are home to more than 5,700 fish representing 434 species, from the Amazon River in Brazil to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.
We’re going to need a bigger boat. Sea World’s shark tank contains 280,000 gallons of water. The highlight of the exhibit is a 57-foot acrylic tube running the length of the exhibit. Guests walk through the tube and are surrounded by blacktip, whitetip, bonnethead and sand tiger sharks swiming freely through the water.
Sea World San Diego Firsts
In 1980, Sea World San Diego became the first zoological park anywhere in the world to successfully breed emperor penguins outside of their native Antarctica. Twelve years later, in 1992, Sea World became the first park to perform a flight feather transplant on a brown pelican, an endangered species. Forward thinking!
Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute
The ‘serious’ side of Sea World, founded in 1963, is a public, nonprofit organization dedicated to research and preservation. According to a Sea World press guide, the institute “focuses on rare, endangered and threatened species and habitats, on depleted fishery resources and on the ecology of marine animals and biological diversity.”
Getting connected. Sea World has its own Facebook page. As of 2015, the site has over 397,000 likes. That’s a lot of sea fans.
Other Sea World Parks
Orlando, Fla., opened in 1973,
San Antonio, Texas, opened in 1988.
As of 2012, there were 26 animal habitats, 10 rides, 20 shows, 2 play areas, 4 special limited-time events, and 11 “distinctive experiences” (including special experiences such as swimming with dolphins).