Studying Our Oceans at The Whitney Lab

A color photo of the entrance sign to the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience

You may have heard of Marineland, but have you heard of its next door neighbor Whitney Lab? Since 1974, the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience has been a leader in the study of marine life and medicine and has helped to educate generations of Floridians on the wonders of our oceans.

Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney was a film producer and co-founder of Marine Studios in Marineland, Florida. The studio enjoyed tremendous success as a tourist attraction, vacation destination, and filming location for movies with underwater scenes. In the early 1970s, Whitney became very interested in the health and conservation of the dolphins and other marine animals that lived at the studios. The staff at Marine Studios was already studying the communication of dolphins, but did not have the training or resources to study their overall health and diseases that dolphins may be prone to developing. Whitney was interested in maintaining the health of all of the animals at Marine Studios, but also studying the possible links between the health and wellness of dolphins and humans.

A color photograph of an architectural rendering of the Whitney Lab main building circa 1971

Around this time, Whitney met Dr. Sam Gurin, who taught Biochemistry at the University of Florida and had become very interested in biomedical research of marine life. Whitney and Gurin’s interests seemed perfectly aligned, and with access to Marine Studios, they set off to build a marine science laboratory. Whitney donated the land for the lab, as well as a portion of the construction costs. The University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory for Experimental Marine Biology and Medicine opened in January of 1974. Whitney and his wife Marylou later donated additional funds to construct Whitney Hall and housing for visiting researchers and scholars.

Today, Sonny Whitney’s vision and legacy lives on at the Whitney Lab. They continue to be a leader in the research of marine bioscience while also offering a wide variety of education and outreach programs for the community. The lab’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital opened in 2015. You can learn more about the Whitney Lab and make plans to visit their public spaces by visiting their website. You can also hear about the origins of the lab from Sonny Whitney himself in conversation with Dr. Michael Gannon by visiting the University of Florida Digital Collections by clicking here.

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