Marineland of the Pacific

Published 9:07 pm Friday, March 6, 2015

When Howell took his family to Marineland in Southern California, the orca whales were the highlight.

When Howell took his family to Marineland in Southern California, the orca whales were the highlight.

By James D. “Archie” Howell

Summer lingers in southern California; we decide to take the kids to Marineland. Marineland of the Pacific to be exact. It’s an oceanarium, located on a southern promontory of the Palos Verdes peninsula, some 30 miles from our house. It’s a popular recreation destination, and rivals the larger Sea World in San Diego. It promises to be a fun day out for us all.

We load up and drive the freeways to Long Beach, then, at a somewhat slower pace, navigate around the ocean road at the base of Palos Verdes. It takes about an hour, no longer than my commute to work, and the traffic is a bit less during the weekend. We pull into a parking lot not yet full for the day.

Marineland has been open for about 15 years and was designed to provide public display of ocean creatures large and small. It is, in fact, the largest oceanarium in existence. It’s famous residents include a pair of performing orca whales, several performing dolphin, seals and sea lions. It boasts the only pilot whale in captivity.

The site also has a large research, education, and training facility. Displays above and below surface are the walk through type, allowing leisurely observation of a large number of ocean species. It feels strange to be under the surface, staring through glass, out and up at hundreds of fish, seals, sharks, sea lions and types that I can’t name.

A Marineland dolphin jumps through a flaming hoop during a show.

A Marineland dolphin jumps through a flaming hoop during a show.

The day’s highlight is, of course, the shows. We take our place along with a couple of hundred others to witness marvels unheard of before. The lower seats are guaranteed to get wet and we select some about middle ground. Even here, splashes reach us, although not to the drenching point.

Seals, trained to perfection, swim, leap, slide out of the water on command and provide astonishing feats of balance with a series of toys. They even balance on one flipper on top of a small stand. I had no idea that seals could do that.

Dolphins jump, in unison, over a rope of floats suspended about four feet above the water. They “walk on water” on their tail fins; one even has been trained to leap through a fire ring suspended a few feet above the surface.

The most exciting part of the program is the performance of two killer whales. On command they swim leap, turn and splash their way through a complex gymnastics routine. A trainer rides atop one whale around and around the water arena. The whales “talk” with a chatter, requesting fish treats from their trainer. A poolside crane suspends a trainer about 10 feet over the surface. The whales leap from the water and retrieve a fish treat from their trainer. With a spectacular flop, they send a wave over the railings and into the first few seats of the amphitheater, eliciting screams of delight from expectant kids and adults alike. It is an amazing show.

I find it difficult to believe that such large creatures can live and perform in such a small aquarium. Their living space has to be much more than their perforing space.

I record the trip with a few pictures; late in the day we return to our car, tired and happy, with yet another memory to fill our life book.


JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at