FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — No matter your age, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach has something for everyone!
Gulfarium Chief Operating Officer Patrick Berry says, “They can watch a dolphin presentation, they can learn about sea lions and otters and gators and crocodiles.”
The marine animals are definitely the main attraction at this iconic Gulf Coast venue, which opened in 1955. It’s situated off highway 98 in Fort Walton Beach and and sits right on the Gulf of Mexico.
9-year-old Lily Kohn came to the Gulfarium while on vacation with her family. They live in Texas.
“You get to see all the animals and I love the touch tank! I got to touch those animals!”
Like most who come to the Gulfarium, the dolphin presentation is the “wow factor” show.
“We’ve seen them in the ocean but we wanted to see them up close,” said Lily’s mother, Relisha.
Guests see and learn about other marine animals, too, like sea lions, otters, penguins, Harbor seals and sharks. But the Gulfarium’s mission includes more than entertainment value. The facility’s CARE Center (stands for conserve, act, rehabilitate, educate) takes in rescued injured marine animals. The day we visited there were several endangered sea turtles recovering in individual tanks.
Sometimes the turtles are accidentally caught by fishermen who are fishing near piers or even out in the Gulf. Other times, turtles are injured by something humans left behind in the Gulf.
“Trash out there (in the Gulf) is one of the things that we’ll find in the turtles that end up coming to the Gulfarium Care Center. Something they’ve ingested whether it’s a garbage bag or grocery bag, mistaking it for a jellyfish that might be part of its normal diet. And it can cause a lot of problems for those sea turtles. We have to go in and surgically remove those and help them out.”
The sea turtles remain in the CARE center until they heal, then they are released back into the Gulf. This problem is one reason that education is another of the Gulfarium’s missions, teaching guests why it’s important to respect marine animals’ environments.
One of the most popular attractions at Gulfarium are the up-close encounters with the marine life. Special packages allow behind the scenes encounters with animals like sea lions, alligators, Harbor seals dolphins and more. The Dolphin Splash Encounter even allows the guest get in the water for personal interaction with a dolphin.
One family from Hot Springs, Arkansas participated in the Dolphin Splash and said it was a great decision.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime. Your children will remember it for the rest of their lives,” said mom Marsha.
The Gulfarium is taking COVID-19 precautions and management says the attraction’s outdoor environment, which allows room for social distancing, is a great way to get out and enjoy a staycation right here on the Gulf Coast.
For more information, go to the attractions website, www.gulfarium.com
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