It was what many would consider eons ago, 1961, when Nellie the dolphin starred in a Timex commercial for Frank Sinatra’s special “Welcome Home Elvis.” (Commercial is posted below.)
She was 8 years old, and nobody could have imagined then that the gregarious mammal, who was born at Marineland of Florida in 1953, would still be entertaining guests at what’s now called Marineland Dolphin Adventure at the venerable age of 60.
Nellie, the world’s oldest dolphin under human care, achieved that remarkable milestone Wednesday amid great fanfare.
A spokeswoman at the St. Augustine facility, said the bottlenose dolphin has exceeded the median life expectancy of dolphins in captivity by 35 years, and in the wild by 48 years.
“Nellie’s remarkable longevity has amazed us all,” Kurt Allen, the facility’s general manager, told the News-Journal. “We are beyond thrilled to celebrate her life, and we consider it a privilege each day our staff, volunteers, and guests get to spend with her.”
States a post on the Georgia Aquarium blog: “At the dawn of the television era in the 1950s, Nellie starred in several TV shows filmed at Marineland’s original dolphin stadium. In a different era when Marineland produced elaborate shows, Nellie became a fan favorite by performing her famous hula-hoop trick and other behaviors in front of crowds of adoring fans.” (The Georgia Aquarium is owned by the same parent company.)
She has amazed and persevered, surviving after the deaths of not only Sinatra and Elvis, but the park employee after whom she was named: Nellie Mae Skinner Neighbors, who died in 2007 at the age of 99.
In 1970 Nellie was named the mascot for Jacksonville University, and awarded honorary undergraduate and graduate degrees.
This year, to commemorate Marineland’s 75th birthday in June, JU will bestow upon Nellie an honorary doctoral degree.
Marineland describes Nellie as an ambassador for marine mammals the world over. Experts have studied data throughout Nellie’s life to compare it with data from dolphins at other facilities and in the wild.
“Nellie is paving the way for other dolphins that may reach her age and is helping to provide baseline data of information for the zoological community as a whole,” states the Georgia Aquarium blog.
On Wednesday, visitors young and old, from far beyond Florida, flocked to Marineland with birthday wishes and to sign a giant card that will remain on display for the rest of the year. “A couple in their 70s came from New York, and a family from New Hampshire came, and they are just two examples,” said the spokeswoman.
On top of all this, Timex sent a colossal floral arrangement and birthday letter, which begins:
“Dear Nellie: On behalf of the entire Timex organization, please accept or best wishes as you celebrate your 60th birthday. It seems like only yesterday that you so boldly and playfully demonstrated the ruggedness and reliability of our watches in one of our television commercials.”
Of course Nellie was said to have taken all of this in stride, and probably wondered what all the fuss was about.
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