The long life of Nellie the Dolphin was celebrated to the hilt in Florida yesterday. Nellie died on April 30th at the ripe old age of 61, making her the longest-living dolphin born in captivity. The average is 30 years.
Nellie was born at Marineland in St. Augustine, Florida, a large oceanarium which offers dolphin encounters, tours, and full immersive experiences with dolphins. She was such a well-known and well-loved attraction at the park, that they held a memorial and party on Thursday, so Nellie's human family and friends could celebrate her life, complete with poetry readings, speeches and a sharing of old photographs.
When Marineland opened 75 years ago, they produced elaborate dolphin shows that Nellie starred in over the years. In those shows, Nellie performed tricks like jumping through hula hoops. She went onto become something of a local celebrity, even starring in commercials.
Marineland even put together this helpful timeline of Nellie's major accomplishments:
Nellie also received three honorary undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees during her life, making her more decorated than most humans. For her 60th birthday, Jacksonville University gave her an honorary doctoral degree in health sciences and longevity.
Because she lived so much longer than the average captive dolphin, she provided a wealth of information for the marine biology community. She also impacted the way dolphins were treated in the U.S. When Nellie was born, there were no laws protecting dolphins from being captured in the wild or mistreated. Nellie was one of the first dolphins people could meet and interact with, giving many people a closer look at the species, leading them to launch lobbies for the protection of wild dolphins.
Kevin Roberts, curator of marine animals at Marineland, attributes Nellie's relationships with humans as instrumental to changes these laws, "It was like a whole shift over those couple of decades of how people, at least in this country, viewed dolphins and marine mammals. I don’t think that any of us can ever grasp what kind of impact she may have had — or the number of people she may have impacted over those decades.”
Check out Nellie's well-attended memorial party:
R.I.P. Nellie. You were a really cool dolphin.