The Aquatarium!

Before Disney World opened in 1971, the most popular tourist attraction in south Florida had to have been the Aquatarium in St. Petersburg. A cross between a massive aquarium and Sea World, the 17-acre Aquatarium was housed in a 160-foot-tall glass dome. It overlooked the Gulf of Mexico and boasted sea lions, porpoises and whales. First open in 1964, it did great business until Disney, but stayed open until the late ‘70s, even after bringing in sharks after Jaws was a massive movie hit. The 17-acre dome was torn down, the fish moved, and condos were built in its place. Condos.

Excellent amateur photo from somebody’s Flickr


Brian Boone

From the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Northwest, I contribute to the Retroist, write for trivia publications, and blog about music in a humorous fashion. I feel about "Back to the Future" the way you feel about "Star Wars." Also, I'm married and have a child (sorry ladies, orphans).

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5 thoughts on “The Aquatarium!

  1. greg may says:

    As the “King of the Porpoise Shows”, the AQUATARIUM was one of my favorite marine attractions. Carl Selph sold it in 1969 to Frank Canova for $4 million. Canova sold it in 1979 to a resort firm for $40 million! The AQUATARIUM boasted the world’s largest circular marine tank – it was 1 1/4 million gallons big! But the water clarity was almost non-existant due to poor filtration. Google “greg may”/marineland of florida

  2. Greg May says:

    The AQUATARIUM promoted itself in the 60’s and early 70’s as the World’s Largest Marine Attraction. This was quite a boast considering the fact that it occupied on 17 acres with one third of that for parking. But what that AQUATARIUM consisted of was this colossal building beside the beach. It was an architectural masterpiece. This massive building encompassed the world’s largest circular marine tank: 100 feet in diameter, 25 feet deep and containing 1,244,000 gallons of sea water. Surrounding the tank on the top deck was a roofed stadium that curved halfway around the tank with stairwells on each end. 120 clear-glass viewing windows surrounded the tank on two underwater levels. Next door to the main building was a golden geodesic dome – similar to the one and the Miami SeaQuarium that sheltered a smaller amphitheatre. Here’s what would happen: you bought your ticket, you walked through the turnstiles and as you approached the viewing windows of the main tank and wave of disappointment would come over you for you couldn’t see anything due to the poor water clarity. Later, AQUATARIUM changed its name to SHARK WORLD. They dropped the water level in the main tank as they adapted the exhibit for sharks. World-renown aquarists Gerry and Mary Lou Klay of SHARKQUARIUM supplied the sharks and improved the water clarity. Unfortunately, the sharks could not take a bite out of the tourism flowing into Orlando so AQUATARIUM/SHARK WORLD fell to the wrecking ball as did Marineland and Ocean World. Greg May Orlando, FL

  3. Greg May says:

    One of my fondest memories of the AQUATARIUM ocurred in 1976 while I was working for SeaWorld. On my days off, I would drive over to St. Pete to spend the weekend with my buddy, Mike Brown who was a dolphin trainer at AQUATARIUM. Mike was in the cherry picker over the main tank doing a show when the sky over the gulf turned an ominous green color. Suddenly, a waterspout formed and began moving straight toward the AQUATARIUM! People began to run from the bleachers to the stairwell. I was frantically pointing to Mike who was absorbed with getting Floppy to make her 25-foot high jump. The waterspout came on land and crossed over Gulf Boulevard before doing some damage to Boca Ciega. I was deeply saddened when Mike’s friend, Scotty, called to tell me that he had died in a tragic accident while cave diving in the Bahamas. Greg May Orlando, FL

  4. Ahhh, the Aquatarium. I loved that place. The Mold-A-Rama machines, the gift shop (I still have some junk from there), the cloudy water, “That wasn’t a kiss, that looked more like a karate chop!”, the pitiful little zoo they put in near the end, the claims of world record porpoise jumps, and my grandmother. Does it get any better than that?

  5. sharon mckenzie says:

    I also remember working there as a girl diver 1973?4?5? I’m not exactly sure around the time they were doing the Shark World thing. We also fed the dolphins and also did the dome shows. Then our duties were to feed the seals, dolphins, and Clean the tanks, we smelled of FISH every day! worked for peanuts! but LOVED it. The one on one with stormy ,happy, and ? wow can’t remember the others. Glad I had the chance to do it! Sharon

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