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SeaWorld Marks 50 Years In San Diego

Photo credit: Antoine Taveneaux / Wikimedia Commons

An orca performs in a SeaWorld San Diego show.

SeaWorld San Diego will start its 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning with the opening of Explorer's Reef -- the new visitor's entrance.

An opening ceremony will be hosted by "Good Morning America'' correspondent Cameron Mathison and feature Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the park's president, John Reilly.

Explorer's Reef is set to be unveiled at the end of the ceremony. Visitors will enter the park beneath a sculpture of a wave crashing into a reef. Four freshwater and saltwater pools will include sharks, rays, and fish that visitors can reach in and touch.

Special Feature What California’s Orca Bill Would Mean For San Diego’s SeaWorld

KPBS Evening Edition host speaks with Miro Copic, San Diego State University marketing professor, about the impact of a bill that would ban SeaWorld San Diego from using orcas in its shows, March 7, 2014

The celebration comes amid controversy over keeping orcas in captivity, which has been heightened by the documentary "Blackfish.''

A Democratic assemblyman in Santa Monica has introduced a bill to ban shows involving killer whales. Assemblyman Richard Bloom said the legislation was inspired by "Blackfish."

Tuesday, the City Council proclaimed March to be SeaWorld San Diego month in honor of the theme park, which first opened on March 21, 1964.

Since then, more than 156 million visitors have passed through SeaWorld gates in San Diego. The mayor said the theme park has employed 93,000 San Diegans over the years, conducted research on marine life and generated large sums of tax revenue for the city.

SeaWorld plans an 18-month celebration of the anniversary that will include its other two parks, in Orlando and San Antonio.

Visitors at all three locations will get more up-close animal encounters, interactive experiences and new shows, according to SeaWorld. The parks will also have "Surprise Squads'' out each day that will hand out prizes to patrons, like special ride access, behind-the-scenes experiences, reserved show seating, T-shirts or Shamu-themed merchandise.

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