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Mixed Memories for Marineland

Marineland was a marine park that opened at West Beach in 1969 and closed in 1988, in rather controversial circumstances. Feature attractions of the park were the performing dolphins and seals while another of the major drawcards was the famous pelican ‘Mr Percival’ from the movie ‘Storm Boy’.

Photo courtesy Anthony Harrison. Marineland at West Beach, many people have mixed emotions about this Adelaide marine park.

Photo courtesy Anthony Harrison. Marineland at West Beach, many people have mixed emotions about this former Adelaide marine park.

Even today, 30 years after its closure, Marineland still creates a great deal of passionate discussion, treasured memories of school excursions, staff Christmas parties which were held there, visits with parents and siblings and of course the less than ideal practice of imprisoning animals solely for the purpose of having them perform for public entertainment.

I recall clearly the controversy surrounding the relocation of at least two of the dolphins when Marineland finally closed. In the end they were shipped off to a marine park on the Gold Coast at great expense to the State Government of the day.

Tony Porter, the son of long-time manager of Marineland Bob Porter, recently recalled his father’s time there; “My father managed the West Beach Trust until his sudden death in 1985, after which the place ran down and was eventually closed – although the campaign to stop the capture of dolphins for public entertainment had a lot to do with it, too.

My father was a former British airline exec who had a knack for selling and the ‘gift of the gab’, so was adept at spinning publicity from nowhere.

But in the end it was, as many have observed, a practice whose time had come and gone, and it was right that it ended.

Marineland would never have survived anyway – and fair enough too – but it did a lot to advance cetacean behaviour research.

Head trainer, Simon Latimer, was sought by researchers worldwide for his encyclopaedic knowledge – and like all such people, he loved those animals with a passion. He went to NT to work with the Parks Department up there. For all those that loved Marineland, I have a daughter who could never get the smell of fish out of her head – and to this day can’t abide seafood.

Postcard featuring Marineland scenes. Many people find they have very mixed emotions about the place.

Postcard featuring Marineland scenes. Feature attractions included the performing dolphins, seals and the famoue pelican “Mr Percival”.

Many people find they still have very mixed emotions about the place. On the one hand it holds so many happy childhood memories and yet the conditions in which the animals were held were (apparently) less than ideal.

Facebook poster Tracey Rees summed up her mixed feelings this way; “I remember going there as a child in the 70’s. I didn’t realise then what cruel and appalling conditions those poor animals endured just for the entertainment of humans. I’m sure my parents would have been very happy to see their tax dollars used to see them live out their lives in better conditions. I remember reading a story about the dolphins feeling sand for the first time. I also remember the controversy surrounding the decision to put down one of the seals because it was in such bad condition and could not make the trip. I for one am now glad it closed!”

What are your own memories of Marineland?

46 Responses to Mixed Memories for Marineland

  1. ben tucker January 5, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    As a child of the 1970’s I thought Marineland was wonderful. The dolphins and seals were a source of excitement and awe. It was the first close-up experience of these beautiful intelligent creatures for me. As my visits coincided with the popularity of Storm Boy, the visit from Mr Percival (or the pelican who assumed his identity – it didn’t matter) was like meeting a celebrity. I do remember the demise of the facility and it looking very tired and then it’s closure. It left a still unfilled gap in SA for an aquarium or marine facility open to the public for everyone’s enjoyment. Perhaps the now again unused site at West Beach could offer an opportunity for something more sensitive and modern to fill this?

    • Laraine January 26, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      My husband was Manager of the Glenelg Bank where carried out their transactions,we had a” come in any time pass”it made our 2 very popular,the dolphins were curious and friendly even when not performing.I remember Simon Latimer getting a rather nasty bite on his backside when one of the older bull seals was in a grumpy mood.
      Ocean Park in Hong Kong had a Orca in a pool less size than Marineland,when the music for the show started it’s calls could be heard,anticipation of fun or dread,who knows.

  2. Mich January 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    My Mum held a joint birthday party for my older sister (her 6th) and me (my 4th) in the mid 1970’s. All our friends and their parents celebrated our birthdays at Marineland that day. I remember it well even though I was so young! We have some photos of us all having cake and lunch in the front of Marineland, what was the café there. Then going to see all the animals in the back afterwards. This bit is a little more vague for me as I think we saw dolphins and Mr Percival. There might have been some playground equipment there, not sure? Anyway, I can’t personally say if the animals were kept in good or bad conditions as I have no memory either way. All I know is that I loved the day there and have kept it with me many years later. Adelaide would do well to have a similar place, an education amusement facility to take the children of today, my three kids would love that! The issue would be that I bet it would out of the budget of the average family now though, and yes, cruelty towards innocent animals can not be tolerated!

  3. Tania January 5, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

    I clearly remember being called up to feed Mr Percival – I was petrified of such a big bird!

    • Dan January 6, 2021 at 5:49 pm #

      I fed Mr Percival too. They put a fish on the end of a stick and you used it to give the fish to Mr P. I remember one kid got scared and ran away leaving the stick in Mr Ps beak. Was that you?

  4. Jason jennings January 5, 2015 at 8:39 pm #

    i remember having lunch in resteraunt the middle of the tank as a small kid it was the best thing ever.

  5. julie January 5, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    why dont they bring something bak to adelaide it would be great for the kids

    • Dale September 12, 2016 at 12:49 am #

      Because its extremely cruel and unnatural for the poor dolphins!?
      Kids should be going out and socialising, exploring the world!

  6. Kathy Ford January 5, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    My husband and I visited Marineland on our honeymoon, and I was chosen to feed one of the dolphins.They told me to walk out on the board and hold the fish out for the dolphin. What they didn’t tell me was as soon as the dolphin took the fish to get back off the board quickly! I was soaked by the splash the dolphin made entering the water again! Was something I will never forget. That happened nearly 45 years ago in 1970.

  7. mummamel January 6, 2015 at 12:54 am #

    I know we all have wam fuzzy and often romanticised childhood memories of visiting marineland in its hey day but I do not believe that marine parks or aquariums are relevant or necessary in our world today. We have enough research and information to prove that marine life suffer psychological stress and trauma in captivity away from their natural habitat. This industry of using animals as entertainment is out dated and cruel.

    • Dale September 12, 2016 at 12:50 am #

      Perfectly said!

  8. Tim Hamilton January 6, 2015 at 2:27 am #

    I remember going to a Marineland or two as a child. I never went to the Marineland in Adelaide, but I did go to one in Sydney, and another in Surfer’s Paradise.

    I never did like them. For that matter I absolutely hated circuses and zoos. It always seemed to me that the creatures performing for our entertainment were trying to perform in arenas that somehow mirrored small prison-like cells. A pool is not an ocean, and could never be one. Wild creatures are meant to be free and, whether a Marineland, zoo, or a circus, the animals are contained, not free. There is a beach in New Zealand, on the Mahia Peninsula, where I used to take my family periodically. There always seems to be a free show there. Dolphins and whales cruise by there, with the dolphins coming very close to the beach, and they – like the show they put on – are free…

  9. Jennifer Galipo January 6, 2015 at 6:32 am #

    my brother and I worked in the restaurant there. Joe was our boss and Steve was manager.. We had good times and many return diners.

    • Bill October 4, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

      Steve was my boss i was the chef i think in 1974

  10. Glenn January 6, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    I left school after I was chosen to start my apprenticeship there as a chef in the “Dine with Dolphins” restaurant… got to touch a dolphin for the very first time, I was only 16 but don’t recall the animals being treated badly… had some good memories.

  11. Patricia allan January 7, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Around the 80s i worked for west beach caravan park also west beach trust cleaning offices and such. Never saw 1person .i would have to take rubbish through pool room to back of seaworld. Ill swear those dolfins waited for me to come as they would chat to me all the way out back . Returning i would stop for a while and talk to them. When i turned to leave they would race downl the end and back to create a wave to wet me, then they laughed. I loved those dolfins, there is not a doubt in my mind that they loved it there

  12. Sam Blackeby January 7, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    I remember staying at Marine land Village during the protests that were going on in regards to the removal of the dolphins via a ‘budget rental van’

    We were watching through the fence as the van, with police escort, started coming in from behind the building. My dad, who was returning to us with lunch, had also decided to have a look and was driving along the front of the Marine Land building, somehow between the protesters and the police line, and the entering van with its police escort.

    We were sure he was going to be arrested for trying to blockade the removal of the dolphins, but he simply turned his Blue Fairlane off through the crowd and back to us for lunch. He had no idea of what he was a part of.

  13. Gian January 10, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    I have a memory of going there on an excursion as a child , one of the girls had Mr percival slice her back as she walked away after feeding him , Like a really big slice too from neck to bottom , Marine land said to the carers that they weren’t liable. I also have a vague memory of a killer whale there for a while in a pool as big as the one we had at home , can anyone give me some clarity on that one?

    • JB February 16, 2016 at 10:27 pm #

      Hi Gian
      I also have vague memories from the 6os or 80s of a killer whale in captivity here and wonder if you could contact me to clarify what your memories of this are in Adelaide?-

      • Sheralee February 9, 2023 at 2:31 pm #

        There was a marineland in Queensland in the 60’s that had an orca they imported from America when they were capturing and unknowingly decimating their resident pods for entertainment reasons I think this orca came from the southern resident pods of the Salish sea,

    • Jo February 21, 2021 at 12:56 pm #

      I was a trainer there, and we never had any killer whale at Mar

  14. Brian January 12, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    I worked at the Patawalonga Golf Links during the 70s and remember the numerous times Mr. Percival would escape and fly to the course. He would take up residence at the water hazard on the then 7th hole and wait for golf balls to come his way, picking them up, throwing them up in the air and catch them. He never gave them back though. Eventually we would have to call Marineland for his trainer to come and take him home.

    • Don December 17, 2015 at 3:10 am #

      Was there more than one golf course? I recall a North course par 60.

  15. ben tucker January 12, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

    Does anyone remember the penguin rubbish bins? We think they are from Marineland but not certain. There is one at Old Tailem Town inside the park near the entrance.

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Kathryn March 1, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

      I do remember those bins. Your spot on, they did come from Marineland

    • Jerry October 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      I think those might have been from the Adelaide Zoo. If Marineland had them then I think they were gone in the 1980s as I didn’t see them there when I visited. Then again they might have been in a different section of the park.

    • Pixi Johnson April 4, 2023 at 9:16 pm #

      De Young’s were selling vintage penguin bins recently (on their Facebook page) they said they were from magic mountain

  16. Adrian Baker January 16, 2015 at 1:08 am #

    I always remember going to the top spot above Davey Jones’ Locker to see the animals swimming around from the top- feeling scared about the sharks. The dolphins jumping through a ring of fire was the climax too. Then in 80s going to ‘Dine With Dolphins’, eating a meal with dolphins and turtles swimming past your table- as it was next to one of the windows of the aquarium. Also there was a 360 degrees cinema there- whoa, big for the times.

  17. Steve Reynolds January 26, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    Members of the Marine Life Society of SA were able to dive with Marineland’s dolphins in 1987. We returned to the site in 1989 to transfer a number of fish species to the nearby aquarium within the HMS Buffalo restaurant. We have a number of photos & newspaper clippings from those days. We were able to provide the Maritime Museum with a postcard for its dolphin display. We still have more of those, plus a 28-page booklet published by Marineland (West Beach Trust) in the early days. According to a newspaper cutting, 6 dolphins were sent by air to Seaworld on the Gold Coast.

  18. belinda acton January 27, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    Hello was there ever a whale there at one time out the back in a glass tank ?? an Orca maybe ? please help my Brother and i sware we remember it 🙂

    • Dale Porter February 3, 2018 at 6:26 pm #

      I believe you are correct. I also recall the large circular tank with an Orca.

  19. Fraser Watson March 21, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    I loved visiting Marineland in the 1970s. The most important thing to me was meeting Mr. Percival. I had seen Storm Boy and David Gulpilil had visited our school in the Mallee and we had also attended a church camp on the Coorong so meeting the famous pelican was so special. It was like meeting a movie star.

  20. Jerry October 26, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    I remember going there as a kid for my birthday in the 1980s. There was a strange round projection room there where they had a series of small film screens and the footage was of people opening and closing a series of hatches and staring back at the people whilst having conversations about the people they were staring at. Very strange collection of people they had acting out the rolls. I remember a girl in pig tails that stuck out her tongue in the film. How rude!

    There was also helicopter rides outside at the time and the rotten pilot scared us by doing a tail up nose dive so we were free falling for a second. Cost about $25 per person at the time in around 1984ish time.

  21. Renee May 10, 2017 at 4:23 am #

    There was a orca here it arrived 20/51970 she’s was 9yrs old stolen from her family in America purchased by marineland Adelaide she only lasted 12months in captivity here in marineland Adelaide and died

    • Michelle July 23, 2018 at 5:20 am #

      Are you certain of the date you have given for the orca whale as I was born in 1971 and I remember the orca clearly and knew of its sickness and how it was treated but going by the dates you’ve given how could I remember such details of the orca in that small round pool swimming in circles non stop , until one day …….it clearly had to for its own self …..I remember it’s fin being bent over and workers nearing the end were trying to make it continue swimming when it was obviious it had given up …..ran out of energy as had nowhere to go and had no one coming to help it much sooner ………I remember it was leaning on one side and the workers kept straightening it up …….terrible abuse that was .
      But I was born July 1971 , so how could I remember all this ?

      Please reply in regards to the dates ……..thankyou

      • Greg January 3, 2019 at 5:44 pm #

        I was also born in1971 but i cant remember if their was or wasn’t an Orca. As for a few people saying its cruel to keep dolphins in captivity that depends on how they are treated and how good the facilities are. Personally i think back then they should have incorporated the ocean with the park, fence off a huge area of ocean for the dolphins to go when not performing. I used to love going there as a kid generally b4 watching Port Adelaide when they played at footy park. Loved feeding that cheeky MrPercival and the dolphins who are so intelligent and so cool. They seemed to be happy when i went there. Hey guys n girls, if u ever get the chance go and stay in one of the fishermans shacks up the coorong, it is so peaceful and beautiful. The rules were u take your own tucker and dont steal anything

  22. Greg January 3, 2019 at 5:15 pm #

    I was also born in 1971 and i think Michelle is right, the orca was there a bit later. Loved going there in the 70s and 80s, generally before a game at footy park. To me the dolphins seemed happy enough and of course the pelicans were free to come and go as they liked but i agree, why have those beautiful animals enclosed if you cant incorporate the ocean as part of that marine park? Have a huge fenced off area in the ocean where the dolphins can go when not performing. No whales should ever be in captivity as far as i am concerned. On a different matter, help please guys n gals, does anyone know the date of the footy parkcar bombing? I think 1975, was there with my dad and uncle but only thing i remember was jumping 3feet in the air off the old concrete steps they had, scariest thing i have ever encountered.

  23. Rob Baxter August 16, 2020 at 9:01 pm #

    Does anyone remember the massive stuffed great white shark hanging above the back of the area where the dolphins performed? Used to give me nightmare!

  24. Ian Huxtable August 21, 2020 at 1:53 pm #

    I was born 1970 and obviously went here in 1972 with my family though I do not remember it. I have just been going through old family slides and converting them to digital and have come across many pictures of this place and they seemed to have very good patronage.

    I agree times have changed for the better when it comes to animal welfare but I cannot see a reason why they could not have a marine life rescue centre in South Australia similar to the program that runs out of Sea World in Qld. Imagine the informative trips that could be attended by school kids and families alike. It would give many people the opportunity to learn and respect marine life a lot better.

  25. Julie December 14, 2020 at 3:46 pm #

    I have fond memories as a child. I got to meet Mr Persival from the movie Storm Boy. I reckon it is where it began “my love for birds”.

  26. Merrilly Watson February 17, 2021 at 9:28 pm #

    When I was 14, my sister and I won one of the Marineland dolphins in a competition held by Channel 7 (clearly intended to promote Marineland). We were given free admission to Marineland for as long as our dolphin (Splash) was alive. My wonderful parents used to drive us down there almost every Sunday afternoon after the final show for the day had finished so that we could play with the dolphins. We got to know all 5 dolphins, playing ball with them, and on a couple of occasions even swimming with them.

    As I grew older, the novelty wore off and I visited less often. On one of the rare visits in my early twenties, I was devastated to discover that Splash had died. I recall being told that an autopsy on one of the dolphins that had died some years earlier revealed all sorts of rubbish in its stomach, including razor blades! It really was a blessing for the surviving animals that were moved to Sea World on the Gold Coast when Marineland eventually closed.

    On a visit to Sea World, I chatted with some staff members there to see if I could find out what had happened to Splash’s baby (Buttons). Sadly, she had subsequently died. I was told that the Adelaide dolphins used to react strangely when it rained, something they had not experienced (or at least hadn’t experienced for many years).

    Whilst I had a magical experience with the Marineland dolphins when I was a teenager, I am now very much against keeping these wonderful creatures in captivity.

  27. Mary-Anne Rose February 18, 2021 at 2:28 pm #

    Yes as a child on our visits to Adelaide we would go on occasion go too Marineland. I have many fond memories. Sadly now as an adult I feel even though at the time the beautiful animals kept there were receiving the best care possible that captivity and performance shows are not ideal..

  28. Jo Howie February 21, 2021 at 1:39 pm #

    I was a trainer at Marineland during the 80s. There were no killer whales and no 360 degree cinema (round auditorium building with fish tanks and a single cinema screen FYI.
    The company I worked for (Tribond Developments PTY LTD) had been brought over from WA to take over from the dismal West Beach Trust. The Trust had allowed Chief Trainer Simon Lattimer to conduct cruel and outdated training practices where there was evidence of injuries to some of the mammals. The dolphins were completely untrustworthy of humans and it took a long time before they allowed us to actually get in the water with them without attacking us. Tribond Developments were committed to rebuilding a world first giant educational marine mammal rescue facility (much larger than Seaworld GC with a sandy bottomed enclosure larger than Adelaide Oval) which did not include making the mammals perform for human entertainment. The facility was to also boast a world first breeding enclosure with giant wave machine for Sealions, seals and blue Fairy Penguins. There would also be full time marine vets and a hospital facility with specialised raining for staff. A 30 story hotel complex was also devised for tourism/wildlife conventions (jobs for over 600 ppl were also part of the business proposal). The park had a 30 million dollar cash flow and was ready to begin construction at the end of 1987 by world renowned engineer Peter Ellen (who built Ocean Park in Hong Kong).
    Instead of this iconic Adelaide marine facility going ahead, the Bannon Govt and idiotic protesters put a stop to it over a 2 yr period, forcing the old Marineland under Tribond Developments to go into receivership and close down from the public. This resulted in the animals being forced to live in deplorable conditions and eventually being sold to other facilities around the country. Before any of the seals and sealions could be transported, they had to be tested for Tuberculosis; 5 healthy sealions/seals had to be euthanased for the tests to be conclusive, which absolutely tore the hearts from trainers who loved and cared for them. All 6 dolphins were airlifted to Seaworld on GC as captive dolphins could not be released into the sea (they don’t know what boats are, and they would not be permitted to join other dolphin pods). This was the worst 2 yrs of my life, having to stand by and watch the deplorable treatment the mammals endured for the sake of protesters thinking they were doing the animals a favour by closing Marineland. The Bannon govt was an absolute joke, and I will never forget those times.
    Now we have no facility for marine mammal and bird rescue, no breeding program, no world first educational facilities to train ppl, and no incredible aquatic tourism drawcard to SA.
    During my time at Marineland, we successfully hand bred Fairy Penguins (a world first), rescued and rebilitated 3 common dolphins washed ashore during storms (their release was filmed by channel 7 in 1987), rescued and released a beautiful bottle nosed female dolphin injured in the Pt River by fishing boats, and rescued numerous Seabird including Albatross.
    Marineland was on the verge of becoming an incredibly brilliant facility that would have put Adelaide on the map….so much more than any of you could ever imagine.

    • Heather Banham February 15, 2024 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Jo, my names Heather I was a friend of Simon’s son Daniel. I used to stay in his apartment at Marineland having sleepovers sometimes. Daniel and I would run around the park like it was our backyard and I have some wonderful memories. I was obsessed with dolphins at the time. We have family video of me describing the show there with the dolphins jumping through hoops etc. The Lattimers eventually moved to Darwin which strangely enough is where I ended up and I’ve bumped into his mum a few times but can’t recall her name right now. I remember he had a blue ring octopus in an aquarium not far from their apartment door and on that floor we could look down onto the tanks which had fish and turtles. We would pick a turtle and then race down the stairs and try and beat them in a race. I was told one of the pelicans was Mr.Percival from the movie Storm Boy. This would have been around 1986 just before the protests started. I was 5 or 6. I was very sad to see what happened. I didn’t understand any of it at the time. Thank you for sharing your stories and insights. I used to have one of the paperback books which had all of the pictures from the park but the parents can’t find it. I’m on facebook Heather bany Hamm if you want to friend me.

  29. Brett Bates- July 17, 2023 at 1:13 pm #

    i loved this place. Distant memories now, Still live in Adelaide and nothing to replace it even remotely close QLD SYD etc…. has awe
    some aquarium experiences but Boring Adelaide??? ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,catch up!
    MONARTO -ZOO- a couple o other smaller ones but nothing for ‘Must see? bucket lists

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