Marineland’s star performer: Flash the sea lion. This local celebrity poses in his finery during an International Girl Guides camp at Hastings, 8 January 1971.
As we near the end of 2018, the museum team is working on finalising our future schedule of exhibition offerings.
A major social history exhibition with a current working title of, ‘Ring of Fire: the history of Marineland’ is planned to open in mid-2020. ‘Ring of Fire’ will explore the turbulent history of Marineland, a sea mammal park set up in 1964 on Marine Parade, Napier.
In 1964, Napier City Council Mayor, Peter Tait, commissioned an Auckland architectural firm to design an aquarium and dolphin pool for the site. By late January 1965, when the venue was complete, Frank Robson, a commercial fisherman, caught Marineland’s first common dolphin, Daphne, from the moana off Hawke’s Bay. The facility opened officially two days later: Robson subsequently became Marineland’s first dolphin trainer and director.
To fill the new tank, regular dolphin drives were undertaken. This traumatic experience caused many of the captured dolphins to die prematurely. The highly intelligent and social creatures found it difficult to thrive in captivity, and this, along with internal Marineland politics, proved controversial throughout the institution’s life.
Marineland was set-up as a tourist attraction with a showbiz atmosphere, personalising sea mammals to please the audience. Flash the sea lion had a repertoire of tricks including balancing on one of his flippers with a ball on his nose; Bluey the penguin, after rigorous lessons, learnt how to precariously balance on a moving skateboard. The all-time favourites of the show were the dolphins, twisting and somersaulting in the air, solo or in unison, with some leaping as high as five meters.
Over the years, many famous people received VIP treatment and were entertained with a special show put on for their benefit. During the 1970 Royal Tour, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were treated to an exhibition of a dolphin sensationally jumping through a ring of fire. Scruffy the penguin, dressed in suitable operatic attire of top hat, black tie and tails endeavoured to impress Russian soprano, Zara Dolukhanova with his antics. During the infamous Springbok Tour of 1981, Springbok rugby players, surrounded by the media, were photographed feeding performing dolphins.
By 1991, Marineland had grown from an exposed aquatic centre with three small pools to a major attraction with covered stands, underwater viewing and professional staging. Sea lions, leopard fur seals, penguins and otters soon joined common dolphins, the major attraction in earlier days. The last dolphin capture permit was issued in 1987: it became evident that if Marineland was to survive it had to change focus from an entertainment centre depending on performing dolphins, into a marine zoo and seabird sanctuary with emphasis on education.
During its long life, Marineland became one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions: at its height, there were reportedly 220,000 visitors a year. However, there had also always been ethical opposition to holding sea mammals in small tanks and training these socially and mentally complex mammals to perform sometimes-dangerous tricks. As worldwide opposition grew towards using marine mammals for entertainment, the increasingly powerful and well-organised conservation organisations forced Marineland and the Aquarium Board to confront Marineland’s fate: with the death of Kelly, the last surviving dolphin in September 2008, the doors were firmly closed to the public.
If you have objects, photographs, films, or stories about Marineland that you would be interested in contributing to the exhibition, please contact myself, Gail Pope (Curator – Social History) on 027 622 3289 or email@example.com.
Next week, Te Hira Henderson (Curator – Māori) will continue the theme of future exhibition ideas, followed thereafter by Jess Mio (Curator – Art).
- Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival – Duck, Death & the Tulip. Today, Saturday 27 October 11am in the MTG Century Theatre. For more information and tickets – http://www.hbaf.co.nz/
- Our Time for Tea: The Much-Loved Cuppa exhibition closes this weekend, last day to view it is tomorrow (Sunday 28 October)
- NZ Institute of Architects Incorp. Gold Medal Lecture with Andrew Patterson. Thursday 1 November 6-7pm in the MTG Century Theatre. Free lecture with light refreshments available after the talk.
Gail Pope, Curator – Social History, MTG
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 27 October 2018