Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park has entertained millions since its inception in 1955. In the early 1950's J.B. "Brandy" Siebenaler, a well-respected marine researcher and graduate of the University of Miami's Marine Laboratory, had a vision to display marine life in a way that visitors to this area had never seen before. Brandy sold the developers of northwest Florida the idea that Fort Walton Beach needed an aquarium, a tourist attraction, and scientific research center.
In early 1954, the Gulfarium was incorporated by fifteen scientists at the University of Miami and fifty local residents. Today, many of the stockholders at the Gulfarium are the same, or their heirs, as they were back then.
In September of 1954, construction began on a 600-foot stretch of Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The main dolphin habitat took 11 months to develop and built entirely from battleship steel originally from Mississippi. In August of 1955, the Gulfarium opened its doors for the first time with admission prices at $1 for adults and $0.50 for children.
In the beginning, the main habitat contained multiple animal species including sharks, dolphins, rays, and sea turtles. This habitat doubled as both the dolphin show and the Living Sea exhibit with a daily shark feeding demonstration on SCUBA gear. Glass portholes at varying levels gave the visitor the impression of actually being in the sea with the marine life.
Despite knowing that their main attraction animals were actually called dolphins, the trainers referred to them as porpoises so not to confuse the public with the dolphin fish that they consumed. These "porpoises" were trained to jump high to ring dinner bells and collect fish from the trainers hand or even mouth.
In 1956, a separate Living Sea exhibit was built, providing another view "under the sea" with daily dive demonstrations led by Gulfarium staff. This was the first aquarium of its time to feature viewing windows that stretched from the sea floor to the water's surface. While common now, this was groundbreaking at the time. Throughout the years, additional habitats and exhibits have been added including sea lions, seals, otters, alligators, and exotic birds.
The Gulfarium's extensive history of shows and demonstrations continues to this day, with the recent addition of close-up animal encounters, providing our visitors with a new dimension of discovering sea life.
Celebrating 65 Years of Care
In 2020, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park celebrated its 65th anniverary. As one of the world's oldest marine animal parks, we are thrilled to celebrate many milestones including:
- The first marine park to perform underwater shows on SCUBA gear, rather than the traditional full-helmet dive gear of the era.
- The first to record a dolphin jumping to a height of 21 feet.
- The first to successfully raise a stranded baby bottlenose dolphin.
- The first to develop a synthetic milk formula for bottlenose dolphins. This formula is still used today.
These are among many of the significant impact the Gulfarium has had on the community as well as the field of marine animal care and training. If interested in more info, visit www.gulfariumbook.com.