Past Treasure of the Month – February 2012
The Rosenberg Library presented a souvenir plate, a deck of souvenir playing cards, and vintage brochures from Galveston’s Sea-Arama Marineworld amusement park as its February Treasure of the Month. The Japanese-made plate features an aerial view of the park with a sea creature-themed boarder. The deck of cards, made in Hong Kong, is still wrapped in its original plastic and features color photographs of the dolphin show, the park entrance, and an aerial view of the sea wall.
During the 1960s, city leaders recognized the need for Galveston to extend its tourist season beyond the May through September months. Sea-Arama became the first of several projects designed to boost year-round tourism on the island. Its early brochure boasted, “Sea-Arama offers to Southwesterners for the first time the opportunity to combine entertainment and education… culture and science.” Today whale and dolphin shows, water ski tricks, and aquariums are fairly common, but when Sea-Arama opened its attractions were cutting edge.
Completed in November 1965, the $2 million Sea-Arama Marineworld quickly became Galveston Island’s top tourist attraction. Located at 91st Street and Seawall, the 25-acre complex featured a 4-acre water ski park and a 200,000 gallon aquarium filled with exotic fish, turtles, electric eels, and even piranhas. Sea-Arama offered visitors the chance to watch live alligator wrestling matches, a poisonous snake act, flying porpoises, and whale and dolphin shows from its 1,000-seat open-air theater. A crowd favorite was the finale of the cobra show that involved a “Kiss of Death” between the snake and its handler. Two of the most popular and memorable residents of Sea-Arama were its whales Nemo and Mamuk. The ‘marineworld’ also featured an octopus grotto, a petting zoo, and a lagoon with sharks and tropical birds.
Providing an “educational and entertaining experience for adults and children alike,” Sea-Arama’s attendance numbers averaged 200,000+ annually. From its opening until 1988, the park was the most-visited destination for tourists in Galveston. Many Galvestonians who came of age during Sea-Arama’s heyday fondly recall the novelty of the park. During the ski show the announcer would pick out a person in the audience wearing a hat and say, “I think a Seagull wants to buy your hat; he just left a deposit on it.” The park even had a theme song that went: “Come see the sites, come see the show, come to Sea-Arama super sea show by the sea shore!”
The opening of the larger, more modern Sea World park in San Antonio in the late 1980s coupled with aging park facilities caused Sea-Arama’s popularity to dwindle. Unable to keep up with the rising cost of maintenance and the fall of ticket revenues, the park closed its doors in 1990. Many of its animals were moved to other facilities. The remaining buildings sat vacant until 2006 when these too were torn down. In the wake of Hurricane Ike the property served as a temporary debris holding area. Today there are tentative plans to redevelop the property.