Gold Coast Sea World theme park celebrates 50 years, 10,000 animal rescues and 50 million visitors

One of the best-known theme parks on the Gold Coast is celebrating a milestone today.

Sea World celebrates its 50th anniversary.

With more than 50 million visitors, 30,000 employees and 10,000 animal rescues since its opening in 1971, Sea World has cemented its place in local history.

Originating from a water ski show in the late 1950s, the park has undergone significant name and location changes.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Sea World ventured into marine life and became a theme park featuring dolphin shows, roller coasters and a ‘water ballet’.

‘Part of our fabric’

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Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O’Callaghan said the park has been a fundamental part of the Gold Coast since its inception.

“We are so proud of what they have contributed to our economy,” Ms. O’Callaghan said.

“They are part of our social fabric and we are very proud to celebrate this with them, especially after surviving what has been a horrible 18 months.”

Major Events Gold Coast CEO Jan McCormick said Sea World’s success should inspire other local tourist attractions to aim high.

“I think from a business perspective, it really showed the city that we can go big, we can be bold,” Ms. McCormick said.

“We can make it happen and all it takes is a lot of hard work and an absolute commitment to what you deliver.”

“Like a family”

What started as a weekend job for Mitchell Leroy has grown into a career spanning nearly four decades.

Now curator of mammals and birds, Leroy says the park has always felt like family.

Mitchell Leroy has been with Sea World for over 30 years.(ABC News: Kimberley Bernard)

Mr. Leroy plans to celebrate this milestone at Sea World, reflecting on the people and animals he has worked with.

“Think about some of the wonderful and wonderful animals that I have spent my entire life,” he said.

a black and white aerial view of the land with lakes between the islands
An aerial view of Sea World shortly after it opened in 1971.(Provided: Sea World)

Rescue efforts

Over 10,000 marine life rescues have been carried out by the Sea World team, including the rescue of humpback whales from shark nets and turtles and dolphins from drumlines.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner praised Sea World Rescue and its own Marine Animal Rescue Team (MART).

“Sea World does a great job, not only for conservation, but also for allowing people to interact with marine life,” he said.

“I would like to congratulate them for this continuous work in this [rescue] space… it’s a shining light on what we see around the state. “

Sea World has conducted two rescues of humpback whales entangled in the government’s own shark control equipment on the Gold Coast this season.

In August, the Sea World Rescue Team and MART embarked on a daring two-day rescue mission to free a whale from a shark net.

Attitude change and controversy

The park has not been without controversy.

There have been protests in recent years, with activists calling for an end to animals kept in captivity.

Mr. Leroy says Sea World is an accredited zoo and undergoes regular checks by the Zoo and Aquarium Association.

A dolphin jumping out of a swimming pool in front of a crowd sitting on bleachers
Dolphin shows started in the 1970s. (Provided: Sea World)

“They are looking at whether the animal has good nutrition, a good environment, good health,” he said.

“We even hire an external contractor who operates her own animal welfare business and she will come and assess our dolphin collection every year to make sure we are meeting these goals.”

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