The Aquatarium illustrates that creative names for Florida marine aquariums is never-ending.
Opened in 1964, the Aquatarium joined the ranks of Florida ocean-focused attractions, being the first in the Tampa Bay area. Located in the city of St. Petersburg Beach (later officially shortened to St. Pete Beach), the attraction opened years after Marineland, Miami Seaquarium and the Gulfarium and was able to capitalize on those attractions’ knowledge.
The Aquatarium had the requisite animals all marine aquariums are expected to have: dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, penguins, and sharks.
The primary outside show area was operated under a large geodesic dome, known as the Golden Dome. It provided partial cover for visitors and was gold colored. In reality, it was nearly identical to one at the Miami Seaquarium, installed around the same time. The Seaquarium structure was known as the Golden Aquadome.
At the time, the pool under the Golden Dome was supposed to be the largest circular marine tank in the world at about 100 foot (30.5 m) in diameter.
In 1968, the park was purchased by Frank Cannova, a wealthy lawyer and entrepreneur originally from New Jersey. By the mid-1970s, Cannova had modified the Aquatarium with the addition of the Zoological Gardens, a home of terrestrial animals with a focus on big cats. There were lions, tigers, cougars, jaguars and leopards as well as monkeys.
The 1970s were not kind to the Aquatarium as attendance dropped due to the opening of Walt Disney World and its neighbor SeaWorld among other issues. In 1976 it was rebranded Shark World in the hopes that would refresh the park and increase attendance. It didn’t appear to solve enough issues as the park closed midway through 1977.
Perhaps its demise was fostered by its owner Cannova and possible issues with the city of St. Pete Beach. In 1978 Cannova sued the city for allegedly reversing a decision on the construction of a water slide at Aquatarium/Shark World.
Its 13 or so years of operation means it was one of Florida’s shorter-lived aquariums. It’s a shame, as so many of the others have been able to survive to continue to entertain and educate millions of people. Marine aquariums are still mainstays of Florida tourism with facilities dotted around the state including the Florida Aquarium located in Tampa, not too far away from the Aquatarium’s former location.