UF lab may benefit from Marineland sale

The deal should allow for new research and joint education programs.

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 11:31 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 11:42 p.m.

The Georgia Aquarium has bought Marineland, a deal that might pay dividends for the University of Florida laboratory next door to the historic marine park just south of St. Augustine.

The Atlanta aquarium purchased Marineland for a reported $9.1 million. UF operates the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience on land adjacent to Marineland that was donated by the park's founder.

The park's acquisition should strengthen links between the UF laboratory and the Georgia Aquarium, said Peter Anderson, laboratory director. It should allow for new research and joint education programs, he said, as well as help with fundraising for the laboratory's planned center for marine animal health.

"It has a lot of promise for some new collaborations, some new research opportunities," he said. "From my perspective, it's a big plus."

Marineland opened in 1938 for movie studios to film underwater sequences and became a theme park in the 1950s. It focused more on dolphin conservation research in recent years as it struggled to draw tourists.

The purchase comes after nearly three years of partnership between Marineland and the aquarium. The aquarium's $110 million expansion, which involves an increased presence of dolphins, is set to open to the public this year.

Marineland has housed the aquarium's dolphin research station since 2008 but operated separately from the aquarium until now.

The sale won't affect day-to-day operations of Marineland for now, said David Kimmel, president and chief operating officer of the aquarium, the world's largest.

"What we hope to do is not only preserve the heritage and history of Marineland but to leverage the assets of both the Georgia Aquarium and Marineland to make both organizations stronger," he said.

Kimmel declined to say how much the aquarium paid for Marineland, but the Jacksonville Business Journal reported that the sale price was $9.1 million.

The aquarium's dolphin expansion was scheduled to open in November but was delayed until the spring because the facility wasn't ready.

The expansion is the largest since the Atlanta attraction opened in 2005.

Marineland, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was turned into a theme park with dolphin shows in the 1950s but most recently has become an interactive facility where visitors can swim with, train and feed dolphins.

The park, which houses 12 dolphins and helps rescue stranded dolphins from along the Georgia and Florida coasts, was rebuilt in 2005.

"I see a lot of excitement about the future," said Kurt Allen, general manager at Marineland. "We can offer a product that far surpasses anything in the competition."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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