MARINELAND, Fla. -- As Bill Upson approaches with a pail of fish, the surface of a huge circular pool erupts. A dozen dolphins flip, twist, squeak and wave their tails at the empty seats.
Marineland closed four months ago, after 60 years in the business, but the dolphins still perform three times a day, their mouths curved in everlasting smiles.
"We found the dolphins like to keep their routine," said Upson, Marineland's operations chief, adding that if they didn't play, they could aggressively turn on each other, as Marineland's human overseers have done.
Florida's most popular tourist attraction in the 1950s and '60s, Marineland says it was the world's first oceanarium and the first to teach wild dolphins to perform. Now the park is mired in bond defaults, years of neglect and blame-trading, and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. A legion of lawyers is settling claims.
The park's dreams are riding on 19 irrepressible dolphins, which outnumber the 17 voters in the municipality of Marineland.
But it's going to be a tough battle. Holders of $9 million in bonds that are in default recently learned that the Marineland aquarium's most valuable assets were the dolphins, which could be sold for $100,000 each. Jacoby said that millions of dollars would also be needed to rebuild the Marineland aquarium.