Friends and family celebrate life of beloved dolphin Nellie

 

Friends and family celebrate life of beloved dolphin Nellie

 

Date: May 16, 2014
by: Shanna Fortier | Community Editor

 
 

 

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A silence fell over the overflowing tent at Marineland May 15, as Nina Lou Crosby stood at the microphone and recited a poem for her “dolphin sister,” Nellie, who died May 2, at the age of 61.
Crosby and her three sisters pride themselves in being the “human sisters” of Nellie, the Marineland dolphin, who was named after their mother Nellie May Neighbors, who was a cashier at the park when the dolphin was born.

“Previously, when they had baby dolphins they would name them after presidents wives, and they would die, so they said ‘let’s name her Nellie, after the cashier,’” said Shirley Thompson, one of the “Nellie sisters,” who attended Nellie’s celebration of life. “We practically lived here when mom worked here.

Every time we would come I would hug Nellie, which is hard to do because dolphins move so swiftly. But one day she just opened up her little mouth and started crying, so I put a big fish in there and she made this lovely thank you sound. She knew all of us and we loved her like a real sister.”

Since Nellie’s birth at Marineland on Feb. 27, 1953, she had become an icon and served as an ambassador for other marine mammals. Among those who worked closely with Nellie is Kevin Roberts, curator of marine mammals at Marineland.

“My biggest memories of her was working with her and seeing that she could learn all these new things and adapt to new situations,” Roberts said. “She broke the bounds of what a lot of people thought were norms for geriatric dolphins.”

But Nellie’s life impacted more than just those in the industry. When Nellie was born, there were no laws in the United States that protected dolphins in the wild.

“Fishermen would catch them and it was like another fish in the sea sort of thing,” Roberts said.

As people started to come to Marineland and other parks in the ‘50s and ‘60s, they made personal connections with dolphins like Nellie and started to demand that dolphins be protected.

“It was like a whole shift over those couple of decades of how people, at least in this country, viewed dolphins and marine mammals,” Roberts said. “I don’t think that any of us can ever grasp what kind of impact she may have had — or the number of people she may have impacted over those decades.”

The impact Nellie had on the human population is one that Vice President and General Manager Kurt Allen hope to continue. The park is in talks with a local artist, whose name has not been released yet, to create a sculpture of Nellie to be on display at the conservation center. The last six original paintings created by Nellie will be made into limited editions and sold to raise money to fund an education program to continue to educate students worldwide about conservation efforts. In addition, Marineland will launch a brick donation program, the first four bricks being donated to the “Nellie sisters.”

“We thought it was a very appropriate way to start of the program,” Allen said.

In her remarks at Nellie’s celebration of life, Supervisor of Animal Training Stacy Sponge said that she could not sum up her seven years working with Nellie into one memory but some of her best memories was watching guests walk in and having the biggest smile on their face.

“You can’t not smile when you hear that name,” Sponge said. “She continues to educate the public even today. As trainers, we will continue to educate the public every day. Those are the legacy’s that live on. In my book, Nellie will continue to be the ultimate ambassador.”

 

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