The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park and Marineland are featured in a new book released by Pineapple Press, “A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions: From Mermaids to Singing Towers.”
The Alligator Park is Florida’s first alligator attraction. In the late 1800s, George Reddington and Felix Fire were conductor and fireman respectively on a train running from St. Augustine to St. Augustine Beach. Passengers often marveled at basking alligators and the train often stopped so Reddington and Fire could move alligators from the tracks. One day, they decided to gather up alligators and put them in a bathhouse on the beach, charging visitors a quarter for a look. The success buoyed them to start the St. Augustine Alligator Farm at South Beach on Anastasia Island in 1893. In time, the attraction moved closer to St. Augustine.
“Besides the variety and number of crocodiles and alligators at the attraction, I was also impressed with the numerous wading birds,” said author Doug Alderson. “Wading birds are attracted to alligator colonies because they provide protection for their nests, and you can witness the birds raising their young just a few feet away from a boardwalk.”
Marineland, founded in 1938, was the world’s first oceanarium. The tanks were built large enough to include a host of marine animals, from sharks to dolphins. The facility did ground-breaking work in filming underwater scenes for movies and television. It also boasted the first successful dolphin birth in human care in 1947. Behind the scenes, Marineland researchers were the first to measure and record dolphin echolocation and other sounds, an effort that continues as scientists seek to break the code of dolphin communication.
Handlers noticed that dolphins in the oceanarium seemed highly intelligent and were doing tricks and maneuvers at feeding time, perhaps seeking extra fish. By holding fish higher and higher, dolphins would oblige by jumping and leaping. A question was posed, “Can a dolphin be trained?” By 1951, a dolphin named Flippy had learned six behaviors as part of the world’s first aerial dolphin act, and today, the facility has morphed into a full-scale dolphin attraction, the Marineland Dolphin Adventure.
“I was impressed with the sensitivity of the staff,” said Alderson. “They emphasize that interacting with these captive dolphins is different than interacting with wild dolphins. They educate people to give wild dolphins their space.
The full-color guide featuring 36 attractions from around the state is available on Amazon and at select bookstores.