ATLANTA - The Georgia Aquarium has bought the historic Florida marine park that houses its dolphin conservation program, officials announced Monday.
The purchase of Marineland just south of St. Augustine comes after two and a half years of partnership between the Florida attraction and the aquarium, which is set to open to the public this year in the aquarium's $110 million expansion. The seaside Florida park - which opened in 1938 for movie studios to film underwater sequences - has focused more on dolphin conservation research in recent years as it struggled to draw tourists.
"What we hope to do is not only preserve the heritage and history of Marineland but to leverage the assets of both the Georgia Aquarium and Marineland to make both organizations stronger," said David Kimmel, president and chief operating officer of the aquarium, the world's largest fish tank.
Kimmel declined to say how much the aquarium paid for Marineland, but the Jacksonville (Fla.) Business Journal reported that the sale price was $9.1 million.
Marineland has housed the aquarium's dolphin research station since 2008 but operated separately from the aquarium until now. Kimmel said while Marineland will be owned by the aquarium, the sale won't affect day-to-day operations for now.
Marineland, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was turned into a theme park with dolphin shows in the 1950s, but most recently has become an interactive facility where visitors can swim with, train and feed dolphins.
The park, which houses 12 dolphins and helps rescued stranded dolphins along the Georgia and Florida coasts, was rebuilt in 2005.
"I see a lot of excitement about the future," said Kurt Allen, general manager at Marineland. "We can offer a product that far surpasses anything in the competition."
The aquarium's dolphin expansion was set to open in November but was delayed until the spring because the facility wasn't ready. The expansion is the largest since the attraction opened in Atlanta in 2005.