Thesis ID: CBB857833574

Portholes into a New World: The Contributions of Marine Studios, Florida to American Popular and Scientific Understanding of Marine Life (2021)


Founded in 1938, Florida’s Marine Studios was the world’s first “Oceanairum,” a place where marine life of different species lived in the same tanks in captivity. After becoming a financial success, the facility franchised and changed its name to Marineland, and later Marineland of Florida. Marineland became the prototype that allowed public access to marine research facilities that continues today. The legacy of Marineland involves combining research, entertainment, learning, and wonder can be seen in the continued popularity of places like Seaquarium, Georgia Aquarium, and Sea World. By providing a unique blend of science, film, and tourism, Marine Studios brought about a change in the way both scientists and the American public understood marine environments and the animals that inhabit them. Through these three different mediums, Marine Studios made people passionate about the oceans and environment. Marine Studios was created as a place for tourists to visit a scientific research laboratory and a film studio, and while it might sound unusual to combine these disparate entities into one facility today, it did not seem that way to its original founders. The founders original mission was to educate the public about life under the water at Marine Studios and they felt that entertainment helped with education. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whiney later stated that he and his cousin/business partner William Douglas Burden “wanted to bring the museum to life and find a way to provide entertainment which would stimulate and educate.” Their years on the board of the American Museum of Natural History were pivotal for their interest in creating Marine Studios. Marine Studios’ story is unique among other marine research or recreation facilities in the United States and around the world. It was created by an unusual cast of founders and investors who could afford to create a business in the years following the Great Depression. As the first oceanarium, it became the first place to house animals of different species in the same tanks as one would see in the oceans and present these scenes to the viewer to provide an unobstructed view of the action. The animals were captured and cared for in new ways created just for the facility. Their survival lead to the training of some species and the scientific study of others. The facility survived being mostly abandoned during World War II; when its founders and caretakers were away during the war, it served the country as part of the Coast Guard civil defense program, and its staff participated in the creation of shark repellent along with many other important missions relevant to the war effort. It was reopened on the cusp of many of the largest financially profitable decades in Florida’s tourist industry. Marine Studios was financially successful enough to franchise and had a name change so that it could put itself on the map, literally and figuratively. Later known as Marineland of Florida, it played host to some of the most important marine scientists of the twentieth century as they worked and visited the facility to gain knowledge from its resident animals. These studies became the foundations for future scientific inquiry into dolphin communication, lactation, breeding, and behavior. Balancing entertainment and education, the facility was neither fully research center nor fully spectacle, a dichotomy picked up by other marine life facilities when they were created on the Marine Studios’ model. One of the central issues for the facility was that balance between science and spectacle that worked both as an advantage while it was also equally a hindrance. With its many purposes and eclectic group of founders, staff, and visitors, Marine Studios serves as a lens to view many issues of science and culture during the twentieth century. With its unique aspects, it lends itself for inquiry into how these issues shaped an institution. Spanning from its creation to a series of new challenges and changes in the 1970s, “A Porthole Into A New World: The Contributions of Marine Studios To American Popular and Scientific Understanding of Marine Life” also seeks to better understand how one unique facility changed American understanding of marine environments and the animals who call them home.

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Authors & Contributors
Moore, P. G.
Thurs, Daniel Patrick
Casser, Anja
Harrison, Henrietta
Short, John Phillip
Brayton, Daniel
Science in Context
Archives of Natural History
Past and Present
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Public Understanding of Science
Rutgers University Press
Cornell University Press
University of Virginia Press
MIT Press
University Press of Florida
Science and culture
Public understanding of science
Science and entertainment; science and spectacle
Science and literature
Science and art
Shakespeare, William
Masriera, Miguel
Urban, Charles
Duncan, F. Martin
Heisenberg, Werner
Bohr, Niels Henrik David
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
21st century
16th century
Great Britain
United States

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