Marineland's Nellie the dolphin turns 58
Born at Marineland, the oldest dolphin in human care still performs in feeding and petting shows, and starred in a Timex commercial in the 1960s.
February 28, 2011 - 12:00am
Nellie, 58, is the oldest dolphin in human care. The blonde Atlantic bottlenose dolphin was born Feb. 27, 1953, at Marineland.
RecordNellie splashes out the candles on her fish-and-ice cake as trainers Danielle Salvatore and Rachel Lehnus help her celebrate her 58th birthday Sunday at Marineland's Dolphin Conservation Center. Oldest dolphins
Nellie, who was born on Feb. 27, 1953, at Marineland is the oldest dolphin in human care, according to Marineland Curator of Marine Mammals Kevin Roberts.
Another female bottlenose dolphin, estimated to be older, lives in a free-ranging community of dolphins in the Sarasota Bay on Florida's west coast.
The website for the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program - www.sarasotadolphin.org - says that dolphin is part of their survey research and is named Nicklo. She was estimated to be 60 in 2010, according to SDRP.
By Anthony DeMatteo
The St. Augustine Record
Neither 5-year-old Brody Woodard nor 58-year-old Nellie the dolphin thought much about history Sunday morning.
Brody had a single purpose - swimming with Marineland's Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the 73-year-old theme park's 1.3 million gallons of seawater habitat.
"They say 11:30," the blond-haired boy said of his scheduled swim as he clutching a padded railing between him and his fellow mammals.
His mother, Carrie Woodard, said it was the first day he'd seen a dolphin anywhere but the ocean, except once, on the shore, dead in a fisherman's net.
Threatening the start time of Brody's first dolphin swim was a celebration for Nellie - the oldest dolphin in human care - her 58th birthday Sunday at Marineland, south of St. Augustine.
"She's six months older than I am," said Bonnie Tyler, a professional camera around her neck. "She's still beautiful and I'm still beautiful. We're both holding our lives together."
Nellie was born Feb. 27, 1953, at Marineland, and one day before two English scientists announced they'd discovered the double helix and one day after singer Michael Bolton was born. Dwight Eisenhower had been president 39 days.
Nellie is more than twice the age of the average wild female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, and at least 13 years older than the park's next oldest dolphin, Pebbles, who is about 44, said Marineland Curator of Marine Mammals Kevin Roberts.
A makeshift camera-well formed as some edged for a close shot of Nellie splashing out candles on a cake made of ice and decorated with sushi and small sea life too frozen for her to eat. Instead, she accepted treats tossed from trainer Rachel Lehnus of capelin -the bait fish sacrificed at the annual birthday bash.
After the short ceremony, with her unusually curved dorsal fin and a half smile, Nellie cruised water made aqua blue by the paint below, peeking among her birthday guests.
She is part of the park's feeding and petting show, but leaves swimming with the public to younger dolphins, said Marineland education specialist Meredith Horn.
"My very first day I started here I was lucky enough to pet her and feed her, even before my interview," Marineland volunteer Joan Irving said. "She is healthy and tends to be quite friendly - considering her age."
Irving said she has been coming to Marineland since 1980. This is her fifth year as a volunteer. She said the logic of the park focusing less on entertainment and more on research grew on her.
"It was very difficult at first; but what I actually think now is it is so much better we study them and their habits and collect data, rather than just seeing them perform in a circus."
Marineland closed in 2004 for renovations. It reopened in 2006. Georgia Aquarium recently purchased the venue.
In her youth, Nellie was featured in television shows at Marineland's old Dolphin Stadium and gained greater acclaim starring in a 1960s TV commercial in which she jumped Marineland hurdles with a Timex watch in her mouth to display the toughness of the timepiece.
"She's a pretty impressive dolphin to work with," Lehnus said.
Nellie's longtime dolphin pal Lilly died more than two years ago at 47. She was the last survivor among Marineland's "blonde" dolphins.
Irving said Nellie's favorite activity is playing with her black basketball.
"Oh, she loves to play ball," Irving said.
Sunday morning's party was held under a birthday-clear sky. Guests ate more conventional cake than what Nellie politely refused; a cool breeze came from the ocean as a sparsity of people walked the slate-flat sand of Marineland's beach.
"I love working here," Horn said.
As the crowd thinned around her, Nellie swam, pointing her nose toward the sun.
Peering at her, bouncing outside her tank and holding three huge towels was Brody Woodard, asking Irving when he could swim with the dolphins.
It was 11:24 a.m.