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Special

Marineland Dedication

From the editor:

The Breakwall Angler has dedicated this page to preserve the memory of one of the happiest places on earth (for a fish guy). 

Pictures

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Marineland employee reunion

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Marineland's history is a roller coaster

Photo book by a former worker at the Palos Verdes Peninsula attraction traces its many ups and downs.

By Melissa Milios

Daily Breeze 12/19/2005

On the southern end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, 51 brand-new luxury casitas and villas sold this month for a cool $120 million. Will their inhabitants be visited by the spirits of Bubbles and Orky?

The world-famous pilot whale and the world's largest captive killer whale drew hundreds of thousands of gawkers and animal enthusiasts to the spot during their heyday at Marineland of the Pacific.

Part ocean-themed tourist attraction, part animal research and rescue center, Marineland and the story of its genesis, zenith and decline have been captured in a new photographic history book, self-published by former Marineland gift shop clerk and camera boy Jim Patryla.

"It's the only place I ever wanted to work," said Patryla, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. "It's gone now. I just want people to remember it was there."

Patryla writes that Marineland was only the second oceanarium in the United States when it opened to the public Aug. 28, 1954. The first was Marine Studios in Florida, which was originally built to photograph animals and simulate the ocean for motion pictures -- but soon became a major tourist attraction.

Marineland's first owner, investment banker Henry Harris, hoped to capitalize on that popularity. On the cliffs overlooking the ocean, his team built two enormous oceanarium tanks -- both three stories tall -- a restaurant, a 12-unit motel, offices and laboratories. On the beach below, they built a 250-foot-long pier to help bring in the animals.

While collecting the thousands of animals to stock Marineland, teams pioneered techniques and invented devices still used today, such as transport tanks, the hoop net, the sea life decompression chamber and the slurp gun.

By opening day, the $3 million oceanarium had assembled the nation's largest collection of marine life -- sea turtles, moray eels, sawfish, sea anemones -- and brought in more than 14,000 patrons.

But ticket sales leveled off too soon, and by 1956 the owners decided to recreate the oceanarium as an ocean-themed entertainment park.

In 1957, they caught Bubbles, a 12-foot-long, 1,600-pound female pilot whale -- the first ever caught and kept alive in captivity.

"Ticket sales went through the roof," Patryla said. "Bubbles became an international superstar. The media went wild."

The craze boosted ticket sales past 1 million that year, which allowed owners to build a $500,000 sea lion and dolphin stadium in 1958.

Bubbles was eventually joined by other pilot whales named Squirt and Bimbo, who jumped and dived and sprayed for their cheering fans.

In early 1961, Marineland launched a far-reaching, $20,000 expedition to the Bering Sea and added four baby walruses to its menagerie. By 1965, the not-so-little ones outgrew their habitat, so park owners built them a new $250,000 one -- known as the Walrus Waldorf.

But over time, as Disneyland opened in 1955 and Sea World San Diego was built in 1964, the theme park competition took a toll on Marineland, and attendance plateaued.

Still, park owners continued to add more new attractions. The Sky Tower was erected in 1966. The four-minute, 244-foot-high ride offered panoramic views of the Southern California coast.

The park got a boost in 1968 when it captured Orky, its first killer whale, who was soon joined by Corky. The popularity of the black-and-white duo bumped Bubbles and her crew from the largest, top-deck stadium.

But by the early 1970s, the competition was getting more and more fierce, and ticket sales were dwindling. Marineland's original shareholders sold the park in 1971 to the owners of Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

The park changed hands again, and then again, but investment and new attractions were minimal and the park's heyday had passed, Patryla said. Not even the Great American High Diving Team, which performed in the sea arena during the 1970s, could boost ticket sales.

The enactment of the Marine Protection Act of 1972 also made it illegal to capture any new animals from the wild, so the park and others like it expanded their breeding programs.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, the park added more visitor-participation attractions, such as snorkeling in the giant fish tank, playing catch with the dolphins and handling critters in the touch tanks.

Eventually, the costs associated with the park's breeding program and marine animal-care center were outweighing ticket sales. Expansion plans were discouraged by the California Coastal Commission and the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, which was worried about increased traffic.

And for years, Sea World had set its sights on Orky -- a proven breeder. The competitors put in offers to buy the animal, but Marineland owners refused to sell him. Finally, in 1986, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., which owned all three Sea World parks, bought Marineland.

But after inspecting the aging park's facilities, the new owners announced that an upgrade would be too costly. The community held protests, but Marineland locked its gates for the last time Feb. 11, 1987 -- three weeks earlier than planned, amid high tension and alleged bomb threats.

Orky, Corky and most of the other Marineland animals ended up at Sea World in San Diego. Corky still lives there today.

Patryla, now a Santa Clarita Valley resident, said he still thinks about the killer whales. When he was researching the book, he said, the new owners of the land let him walk through the grounds.

"I was standing in an open field where the killer whale tank used to be. It broke my heart," he said. "I said, 'I'm going to do a book because people need to know that something was here.'

"It made a difference. It wasn't just a theme park -- it helped the community, it helped the animals, and I've loved it since I was a kid."

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