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Nellie, 61, World’s Oldest Dolphin in Captivity, Dies at Marineland’s Dolphin Adventure

| May 1, 2014

nellie dolphin oldest captivity marineland adventure

Nellie, 1953-2014 (Marineland Dolphin Adventure)

Less than nine weeks ago Nellie celebrated her 61st birthday, complete with her own hashtag and media celebrations: she was the oldest dolphin in captivity, or “in human care,” as its caretakers at Marineland’s Dolphin Adventure preferred to say. She was born there on Feb. 27, 1953, fast becoming a television star and a mainstay of the attraction’s stadium shows. At age 8, she was the star in a Timex commercial for a Frank Sinatra special.

Earlier this evening, Nellie died.

“We are saddened to announce that #Nellie, the oldest Atlantic bottlenose dolphin in human care, has passed away,” the attraction’s Facebook page announced around 7 p.m. “She lived to the incredible age of 61. Though we are saddened by her loss, her memory will live on in the lives she touched. She fostered a love of the ocean and promoted marine conservation to thousands throughout her lifetime. We will miss her dearly.”

Condolences and comments quickly flooded in, starting with this from Georgia Turner: “She was a good girl – so sorry to hear!” Turner had until late last year been Flagler County’s tourism director at the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce.

Nellie’s remarkable resilience exceeded all expectations, as the median life expectancy for dolphins in captivity is less than 30 years–and much less than that for dolphins in the wild.

“Was very honored to have Nellie part of our wedding five years ago,” Chris Smith wrote, “we have two of her paintings up on our wall…my wife and I send our condolences to Marineland for their loss on such a beautiful creature of god.”

The comments reflected the depth of affection and various histories visitors had developed for and with Nellie over the years. “Nellie, thank you for all the great experiences,” Rosalie De Fini Outlaw wrote. “I spent many long hours visiting you and your dolphin community back in the 1990’s while I was a student at the University of Florida. Thank you for teaching me and millions of other Marineland visitors so much about our beautiful sea life. I continue to strive to protect mother ocean. You will be missed.”

Kevin Roberts, one of Nellie’s caretakers at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, called it “the end of an era” on his Facebook page. “This old girl taught me and others so much over the years, and I am proud to have been part of her life for the past 17 years. You were one of a kind, Nellie. Give my love to Lilly.” Lilly was Nellie’s long-time buddy, dying in 2009.

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17 Responses for “Nellie, 61, World’s Oldest Dolphin in Captivity, Dies at Marineland’s Dolphin Adventure”

  1. Carol Fisher says:

    We just saw Nellie again last Thursday at the Flagler Restaurant Week kickoff party. She seemed in great spirits that night. My husband was so impressed because that day HE (Jeff) turned 60, and Nellie was older than him, and seemed quite “chipper”! She was an amazing lady!

  2. Corinne says:

    To bad! Dolphins do not belong in captivity! Heartbreaking to think she never experienced the ocean in her 61 years! Watch the Cove!!

  3. Livesinpalmcoast says:

    So sad to hear, Nellie RIP

  4. Florida Native. says:

    My sixth grade class went to Marineland in 1962 and saw Nellie perform. It was magic. Disney shut down Marineland for years and Silver Springs too eventually. RIP sweet girl.

  5. Will says:

    Nellie will be missed… I saw her just last Thursday, and she was actively bobbing up and down seemingly interacting with visitors at Marineland. I noticed that day that she had some loss of skin and irritation on the tip of her lower jaw – which we might call a chin. One of the attendants said another attendant had just put some medication on it to help take care of the condition. The area of irritation was about the size of a half dollar.

    That makes me wonder about the cause of Nellie’s passing. It may have meant nothing in the big picture. And Nellie had made it for many years, thanks to the care of the Marineland staff, I’m sure. I wonder if they’ll say more about why she slipped away now, when she looked so good last week.

    Though it didn’t matter to her I’m sure, I’m glad I spoke to her and thanked her for the joy she brought.

  6. Diana L says:

    Too bad she was not able to live her life like she was designed to. No matter how they spin in, Nellie was held captive.

  7. sad she lived her life in a fish bowl , I think if they are going to have shows like this they should only keep them 5 10 yrs tops have a gayed area in canal for bait fisk to get in but them not out till they are reasdy to fend for themselves again , its like the poor things are in prison

  8. confidential says:

    Nellie lived an incredible long life…and I am deeply sad of her passing. She will be greatly missed! Just like we miss our beloved pets and relatives when they depart. Hope in the near future provisions are made to prevent marine or any other wild life be held in captivity for profit.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Very sad she seems soo sweet!:(

  10. JC says:

    We learn so much from these mammals. And she lived a much longer life with Marineland than she would have in the ocean. She was not mistreated and was not in a “fishbowl”. Thank you to all of the attendants at Marineland over the years that took care of her. My Great Grandma visited Marineland back in the 50’s. Her name was Nellie.

    These mammals, even though they are in captivity, are not mistreated. They are spoiled, if anything. And I think it’s a good thing we have these facilities, to teach people about them. Otherwise, no one would really care, and fisherman would be killing them just to catch tuna, and the like.

    Keep up the great job Marineland!

  11. Robert Hopkins says:

    My daughter, Nellie, living in Savannah, informed me of Nellie’s death. How sad. Nellie lived a good life at Marineland–much longer than if she had lived in the ocean.

  12. Seminole Pride says:

    I saw Nellie on a field trip in school when I was 10 years old. Later in life we took our children, and grandchildren. She was a delight, and will be missed.

  13. confidential says:

    Dear Nellie you went to swing among the Angels, have a heavenly trip!

  14. Florida Native says:

    Nellie was my hero since I was 6 yrs old. My family lived just 30 minutes away and we would go over to Marineland often and watch the shows and feed the dolphins. When my son was 4 yrs old, him and I would go over and feed the dolphins and watch Nellie perform and watch the shows, he looked so forward to it. I have been back since the whole Marineland has been redone, and had a chance to get to see Nellie and get some pictures of her, since then she was kept in retirement and away from all the excitement. I will truly miss Nellie. I do have some very good pictures and lots of great memories of her back when I was a little girl. Thanks Nellie for all the good times and great memories. You will truly be missed!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Jane says:

    My Mother-in-law performed with Nellie back in the day. I remember how excited she was to take my children to see Nellie when they were small.

  16. jc says:

    Wow, died in prison….Last thoughts were, thanks all you fat tourist for supporting my imprisonment….

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