The world’s first oceanarium – our very ownMarineland®, Florida’s first tourist attraction – has produced yet another first.
On May 30, 2013, as part of the park’s ongoing 75th anniversary party, Nellie the dolphin was awarded an honorary PhD in health science and longevity by Jacksonville University.
Officially this makes her the world’s most educated marine mammal, a title long-held by Flippy, who for many years was Marineland’s® main claim to fame.
That’s two more firsts for Miss Nellie and Marineland®.
World’s oldest living dolphin
Born Feb. 27, 1953, at Marineland®, Nellie celebrated her 60th birthday this year.
In addition to being the world’s oldest living dolphin of known age, she is also the longest-lived born and raised in a preserve.
Nellie’s parents Susie and Happy were also park residents and worked as regular performers in Dolphin Stadium during Marineland’s® heyday,
Likewise, Nellie has done her sharing of performing – a perennial crowd-pleaser famous for her showmanship and affection for many of the children, Your Examiner included, in the audience at Dolphin Stadium.
At one point, Miss Nellie was so famous that she starred in her own commercial.
In 1960 when newsman John Cameron Swayze once again assured his viewers that Timex® “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
She’s had her share of offspring as well.
The last, Sunny, made her the oldest dolphin to give birth – at age 31 in 1984.
Although she is retired from performing now and does not swim with the public as part of the park’s Dolphin Adventure, Miss Nellie is part of Marineland’s® Touch & Feed show.
She also works in the park’s dolphin-assisted therapy program for the disabled.
Pioneered in 1978 by Dr. David Nathanson, dolphin-assisted therapy is used to increase speech and motor skills in patients with developmental, physical, and emotional disabilities such as mental retardation, Down syndrome and Asperger’s syndrome (formerly called autism).
World’s most educated dolphin
In 1970, under pressure to raise its profile to compete for students with upstart University of North Florida, officials at Jacksonville University, one of northeast Florida’s oldest private universities, need something big.
They found Miss Nellie, who earned her honorary bachelors degree and became JU’s official school mascot the same year
She has remained so for the past 43 years, the country’s oldest living college mascot.
In 2008, JU gave Nellie an honorary masters in marine science as well.
Through all her fame, all the trials and turmoil of Marineland’s® closing, its resurrection as a research facility and sale to the Georgia Aquarium in 2011, Miss Nellie has kept her very famous half-smile.
An equally famous namesake
Perhaps Miss Nellie the dolphin gets her equanimity from the local celebrity for whom she is named.
Nellie Mae Skinner Neighbors of St. Augustine was Marineland’s® most famous cashier from 1952 through the 1960s.
During Marineland’s® biggest years as a tourist attraction, when 500,000 people a year came to see the dolphin shows, everyone who bought a ticket had to walk past Nellie Neighbors.
Born in 1908 in Ponce de Leon Springs, Fla., Mrs. Neighbors was the youngest of 11 children. Married in 1926 to Ell Neighbors, she had five daughters who in their turn have produced 15 grandchildren, 25 great grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren.
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: email@example.com