The history of Sea World
. . . is strange, bizarre, and entirely fascinating. The following short SeaWorld history, while not anywhere near complete, gives you just a taste of that past and may help you appreciate your visit even more.
SeaWorld began as a crazy idea for an underwater restaurant and underwater zoo. Deciding that an underwater restaurant was too costly and impractical, the four UCLA graduates who dreamed up this project decided instead to spend $1.5 million to open an aquarium instead.
But it was to be no ordinary aquarium: SeaWorld was the first park of its kind where people could watch dolphins and killer whales performing--swimming, playing and leaping--while getting closer to them in a way that was not possible at an ordinary aquarium.
March 21, 1964 was the first day in SeaWorld history: SeaWorld opened its doors in San Diego with a 22-acre campus and just 6 attractions, including some dolphins, sea lions and a salt water tank, but no killer whale. Still, the park was an immediate success--it had 400,000 visitors in its first year of operating.
It may be that 1964 was a particularly lucky year to open SeaWorld. In that year, dolphins and whales were in the public eye. The television show Flipper first aired in September 1964, the story of a single father, two boys, and their friend Flipper, an extraordinarily intelligent bottlenose dolphin.
Old Sea World photo
- Old Aerial Sea World photo
An old black and white photo of Sea World San Diego, from March 1964, courtesy of the San Diego Historical Society
Sea World and Shamu
SeaWorld opened with no killer whale because it was only later that year that a killer whale had been captured and lived in human captivity. Shamu, SeaWorld's mascot, was not the first killer whale in captivity even if she became the most famous one. Moby Doll was the first killer whale who lived in captivity, in Canada. He was important because, before his capture, not much was really known about killer whales, not even what they ate.
The most surprising discovery was that Moby Doll, despite being the deadliest predator of the ocean (killer whales have been known to win fights with great white sharks), was docile and not aggressive with human beings. Moby Doll died within three months of his capture (not too surprising, since he was captured by being harpooned, and his handlers had no idea what to feed him for his first two months in captivity), but during that short time, was extremely popular--enough to get an obituary in the newspaper The Times of London.
In 1965, Shamu was only the third orca ever in captivity and the first ever captured live (again, Moby Doll had been harpooned and the second killer whale in captivity had been caught by accident). Soon after her capture, she was flown to SeaWorld in San Diego. In 1966 she made SeaWorld history by being the first killer whale to perform in public in a show called Doctor Doolittle. She lived until 1971. Now, of course, Shamu is the stage name given to several killer whales at various SeaWorld parks.
Sea World Expands to San Antonio, Orlando, and Beyond
Since 1964, SeaWorld San Diego has expanded greatly, growing in size from 22 acres to 189 acres. While 400,000 visitors went to SeaWorld in its first year, most recently (as of 2008, anyway), SeaWorld received over 4 million visitors, making it one of the 25 most attended theme parks in the world.
In 1968, SeaWorld became a publicly traded company, making it easier to obtain the money it needed to expand to different locations. The first "new" SeaWorld opened in Aurora, Ohio in 1970, although this location was sold to the Six Flags theme park chain in 2001. A location in Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, opened in 1973, and a location in Texas, SeaWorld San Antonio, opened in 1988.
Over the course of SeaWorld history, the company has had several owners--bankers, publishers, and then beermakers! The original owners, of course, were the four UCLA grads who conceived of SeaWorld--all were bankers or businessmen of some sort.
In 1978, Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich (HBJ), a publishing company mainly known for publishing books for children and adults, bought SeaWorld from its original owners. It was HBJ that pushed to open a new location in Texas. Over time, operating the various SeaWorld locations became such a strain on HBJ.
In 1989, HBJ sold sold SeaWorld to the Anheuser-Busch company, the makers of Budweiser beer amongst other products. SeaWorld then joined the Busch Garden family of theme parks.
In late 2009, Anheuser-Busch (now called "Anheuser-Busch InBev") sold its Busch Garden theme parks, including all of the SeaWorld locations, to the Blackstone Group, a private equity/leveraged buyout fund. Blackstone has not announced any changes in how they will operate the SeaWorld parks.
International Sea World Locations
Currently there are no international SeaWorld locations. There are plans for an international location, and even a fictional Sea World outside of the United States, but as yet not a real one.
In February 2008, Anheuser-Busch announced plans to build the first park outside of the United States SeaWorld history--Dubai, United Arab Emirates. While the park was to be ready in 2012, as of February 2009, the Dubai SeaWorld project was put on hold because of the recent financial troubles faced by that country.
There is, however, one fictional international Sea World location. At the end of A Fish Called Wanda, an absolutely hilarious film, you find out what happens to some of the characters after the events in the movie.
Ken (played by English actor Michael Palin) is an assassin and animal lover who keeps killing animals by accident while trying to kill one old woman. (The movie is named after his prized fish, Wanda). The post script to the film (a series of "where are they now" slides) explains that Ken becomes master of ceremonies at the London Sea World.
Actually, and unfortunately if you are British or European and don't feel like flying to the United States, London Sea World does not exist. But if you're British or European and want to have a Sea World closer, write to Sea World's corporate headquarters and demand it!
Other Sea World links
- Sea World San Diego
What makes Sea World San Diego so fun and tips on how best to enjoy your time there.
- Killer Whale vs Great White Shark
Find out what would happen in a fight with a killer whale against a great white shark. Both are powerful predators, but only one can come out on top. Find out who wins in the killer whale vs great white fight.
Katniss Everdeen on September 17, 2014:
Go Seaworld :D
Jadiel njeru on January 02, 2014: