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Sunday Favorites: Marineland During the War Years

A diver in one of the tanks at Marineland

FLAGLER COUNTY -- The United States would be indoctrinated into the second great war after Japanese fighters bombed Pearl Harbor. The attack would not only mark one of the defining moments in American history, but set Marineland on a path that would come to define its existence for nearly the next decade.

As the war raged and the nation had to learn to cut back on everything from food to gasoline, Marineland, too, had to change how it conducted business. They moved away from the tourist trade, shut down the movie production studio and were eventually forced to close.

But, it gave the attraction the chance to reinvent itself, as the owners decided to commit to the war effort. Instead of rationing supplies, they decided to unload the animals on the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, transporting them in a special railroad car called the Nautilus.

Other animals were turned loose back into the Atlantic, but there was one porpoise who wouldn't leave, a calf that had grown up at the attraction and never knew the open water. He hung around for a while, was fed by the attendants who had raised him, but he eventually pointed east and headed out to sea.

The three founders then looked at their huge marine tanks, now empty, and wondered what was next. Their investment, at once so unique and popular, was quiet. It was then that Harvard professor Harold Coolidge conceived of one of the more ambitious, if not silly, projects during the war: a chemical shark repellent that would ease the minds, and hopefully save the lives of, the sailors who found themselves lost at sea, adrift after their vessels were destroyed.

Now dubbed the "Marineland Biological Laboratory", many false starts and failures haunted the research team; they captured dog sharks and tried everything, from stuffing bait with poison to shooting ink clouds at the sharks to using chemical agents deployed on human soldiers fighting in war zones across the globe.

It wasn’t until they accidentally discovered that the clue they were looking for was in the sharks themselves that they found success; researchers allowed decomposing shark carcasses to rot in vats for days, and the chemical residue left by the rotting corpses, turned off other sharks looking for food.

 A 1964 picture of the dolphin show

The discovery quickly made its way to Washington D.C., where the Navy took hold of the project and started to distribute the chemical to all sailors, claiming it would last three to four days, long enough, hopefully for rescue while floating at sea.

Unfortunately, the repellent did little to help the 880 crewman who died during the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, after having just dropped off the critical parts for the first atomic bomb.

Roughly 300 went down with the ship, while over 500 crewmen were eaten alive by sharks. Only 316 sailors survived.

-----March 1st, 1946

Adolf Hitler had been dead nearly a year. Most of Europe was rebuilding and America was poised to enter one of its most prolific and prosperous periods.

At Marineland, the cement walls of the oceanarium were cracked and chipped, metal surfaces grew ugly with rust, and the park still sat empty. War years had not been good to the attraction.

Off the coast of Northeast Florida, a 36 foot cruiser named the "Beau Gregory" trolled the Atlantic waters, searching for new specimens to fill the empty tanks.

After WWII, Marineland returned to  motion pictures and tourism.

Crews eventually snagged a bunch of animals, including barracuda, tarpon, giant sea turtles, a 200 pound manta ray and six porpoises. They also eventually caught a sawfish, which they dragged 150 miles back to the park, using clever methods like the hull of an old boat to transport the animal safely.

Marine Studios and Marineland was finally back on track. The 1950’s and 60’s were a heady time for the park. With rebuilt and fully stocked tanks, a full staff and plenty of gate receipts, the park was rolling along after that grand re-opening in March of 1946, drawing 300,000 visitors a year.

When the park settled back into the role of movie studio, cranking out Hollywood hits, it continued its success, so much so that the tiny town that had sprung up around it incorporated itself as “Marineland," a testament to the trio’s vision and their willingness to constantly re-invent the park.

Attendance peaked at a steady 400,000 visitors throughout the mid-sixties and movies were continually shot there through the 1980’s.

But, two things were headed Marineland’s way, two examples of progress that were unavoidable for the beloved park: the federal government began construction of the nation’s interstate system, which would draw travelers away from A1A and eventually onto I-95; and an Academy Award winning California cartoonist, fresh off the success of his newly opened theme park in Anaheim, Calif., took a tour of central Florida in helicopter, scouting swamp land for what would one day be Walt Disney World

Tune in next week for part 3 of the Marineland saga......

Click here to read Part 1 of the Marineland Saga


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