Marineland Dolphin Adventure announced May 2 that Atlantic bottlenose dolphin Nellie, the longest-lived dolphin in human care, has died at age 61.
Veterinary, animal care and training staff attended to Nellie throughout the day May 1 as her physical condition deteriorated. Due to her rapidly declining health and inability to support herself any longer, the attending veterinarian administered a calming sedative to ease her discomfort. When it became apparent she would not recover, the decision was made to euthanize. As she died, she was surrounded by her human family of caregivers.
“This is an extremely sad day for the entire Marineland Dolphin Adventure family and surrounding community,” said Kurt Allen, general manager of Marineland Dolphin Adventure. “Nellie was an amazing animal. The age to which she lived and thrived set a new record for longevity of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the zoological community and is a testament to the extraordinary level of care she received from animal training staff and veterinarians throughout her life."
Since Nellie’s birth at Marineland on Feb. 27, 1953, she had become an icon and served as an ambassador for other marine mammals. She inspired millions of guests to care about dolphins and understand their challenges in the wild. Nellie quickly became a local celebrity at Marineland. At the dawn of the television era in the 1950s, Nellie starred in several TV shows filmed at Marineland’s original dolphin stadium. Nellie was featured in a Timex watch TV commercial in 1961 that aired on Frank Sinatra’s special, “Welcome Home Elvis.”
In 1970, Jacksonville University officially adopted Nellie as the school’s mascot, and she went on to receive honorary undergraduate and graduate degrees. Last year during her 60th birthday celebration, Nellie received her honorary doctoral degree from Jacksonville University in health sciences and longevity.
At the time of Nellie’s death, she had far exceeded the average life expectancy of free-ranging dolphins, as well as that of dolphins in human care in accredited zoological facilities. She provided researchers and animal care specialists with valuable information regarding geriatric dolphins. This data can be used to help assess older dolphins in stranding and rescue situations. Experts at other zoos and aquariums can learn more about geriatric animal care and the aging process of dolphins with Nellie’s data serving as a baseline.
A public celebration of Nellie’s life is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, May 15. More information will be available on Marineland’s website as additional details become available. To share condolences and memories of Nellie, guests can post on the Marineland Dolphin Adventure Facebook page and on Twitter by using the hashtag #Nellie. A tribute video can also be viewed on the Marineland Dolphin Adventure and Georgia Aquarium blog.