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History of SeaWorld

SeaWorld’s long-standing history dates back to the early 1960’s, when four graduates of UCLA originally had the idea to construct an underwater restaurant. When those plans were eventually deemed unfeasible for construction purposes, they decided to go another route and open up a marine zoological park. Thus, SeaWorld was born.

The first SeaWorld was not built in Orlando, but actually in San Diego, Calif. With an initial investment of only .5 million dollars, SeaWorld San Diego opened on March 21, 1964 with only 45 employees, several dolphins, sea lions and two seawater aquariums. The park was an instant success, drawing in over 400,000 visitors its first year alone. Four years later, in 1968, SeaWorld offered its stock publicly, enabling the company to further its growth opportunities. Soon after, in 1970, a second SeaWorld park opened in Aurora, Ohio, near Cleveland. Then, when Walt Disney World opened in Central Florida during SeaWorld Ohio’s second season of operation, Orlando immediately became the top choice for a third SeaWorld theme park. While SeaWorld Ohio was only a seasonally-operated park because of its climate, a new year-round park, SeaWorld Orlando, opened in 1973 to instant success, much like its predecessors.

While SeaWorld is now under the realm of Anheuser-Busch, that wasn’t always the case. William Jovanovich, who owned the publishing company Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, or HBJ, bought out the SeaWorld chain for just .7 million dollars in 1976. But soon after, HBJ became the target of large companies who were poised for a takeover, which led to an increased amount of debt for the company. HBJ began selling off its assets, but maintained that its theme park division was not for sale, even solidifying that by opening up SeaWorld’s largest theme park in 1988 in San Antonio, Texas. But continued budget concerns forced layoffs at the SeaWorld parks, and when Jovanovich retired in December of 1988, his replacement, Ralph D. Caulo, restructured the company and sold the theme park division to Anheuser-Busch, which placed the four SeaWorld theme parks under its subsidiary, the Busch Entertainment Corporation. The BEC had originally entered the theme park market in 1959 with the opening of Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla. 

Busch immediately began to sink millions into its new theme parks, including expanding SeaWorld Orlando, adding thrill rides and a brand new Shamu stadium, along with other areas and programs. Discovery Cove opened under the BEC in 2000, and on March 6, 2007, plans were also announced to build a water park that only SeaWorld could build, Aquatica. Aquatica was opened on March 1, 2008, here in Orlando, Florida. Anheuser-Busch sold SeaWorld Ohio to Six Flags in 2001, but the three remaining parks are still committed to SeaWorld’s founding principles, which are quality in the areas of education, entertainment, research and conservation. They are also accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), a recognition that means that these facilities have achieved high levels of animal husbandry technique, medical care and management competence in their zoological exhibition, collections, public education and park operations.

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