Filmed in Tampa Bay, Bernie the Dolphin is family-friendly Florida fun

Clearwater, St. Petersburg and St. Augustine's Marineland get shine in the film.

click to enlarge 'Bernie the Dolphin' filmed in St. Petersburg and Clearwater — and also at Marineland, where greats like 'The Creature From the Black Lagoon' also shot scenes. -
'Bernie the Dolphin' filmed in St. Petersburg and Clearwater — and also at Marineland, where greats like 'The Creature From the Black Lagoon' also shot scenes.

Bernie the Dolphin, produced and filmed in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and St. Augustine, recently had its premiere in St. Petersburg.

The audience was filled with family, friends and fans whooping and cheering every time a familiar face or locale was on the screen. The love fest continued as the credits rolled with familiar names and production crews, evidence of a genuine affection for this kid-friendly, G-rated family adventure.

It’s summer break for 9-year old Holly (a precocious Lola Sultan) and 11-year old big brother Kevin (a confident and mature-beyond-his-years Logan Allen). They love the ocean and spend most of their time exploring a hidden cove and befriending a pod of local dolphins. But there’s nefarious activity underfoot that promises to destroy the natural beauty they so much enjoy. The kids uncover the plans of local developer (boo! hiss!) Winston Mills (Kevin Sorbo) who wants to destroy the hidden beach, converting beachfront into a chemical factory.

click to enlarge Logan Allen and Lola Sultan in Bernie the Dolphin, filmed in Florida with Florida dolphin. -
Logan Allen and Lola Sultan in Bernie the Dolphin, filmed in Florida with Florida dolphin.

The children almost drown trying to foil the plot but are rescued by dolphins. In the process one of the dolphins gets separated from his family. Beached, alone and badly sunburned, he’s finally rescued and transported to a local aquarium that nurses him back to health. As all try to reunite Bernie to the pod, Holly and Kevin engage their parents (Patrick Muldoon, Dahlia Legault) to stop the bad guys, protect sea life, and save their best friend, Bernie.

For sure, Florida waters, weather, colors, light and wildlife have never seemed more beautiful. What better tourist seduction than seeing motorboats skim the Gulf and kids kayaking around sugar-sand beaches? And who doesn’t love cavorting dolphins? It’s especially fun to see pristine Ft. De Soto so prominently featured. 

Bernie the Dolphin • Three of of five stars • G • Directed by Kirk Harris • Currently in theaters and on demand at

Even though film producers are told to steer clear of movies with water, animals and children, this labor of love that became Bernie the Dolphin defies all those warnings. One of the producers, Tony Armer, is the film commissioner for St. Petersburg/Clearwater and founder/former director of Sunscreen Film Festival. Digital Caviar, an independent film production company based in Tampa, partners with Tampa Bay area organizations (including the St. Petersburg /Clearwater Film Commission and Ringling College) to bring Hollywood productions to Tampa Bay.

Director Kirk Harris, a father of two boys, spoke about wanting to create family entertainment that focused on the fantastic magic of being a child in nature. The film really is a fun, albeit predictable, story of the love between two children and the dolphin they save. 

No wonder they’re already filming the sequel.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine returns to its roots as a movie production location —  back to 1938. Bernie the Dolphin features Marineland prominently; here’s where the underwater sequences were shot and where the dolphins do the aforementioned cavorting. Marineland's film history includes Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Sea Hunt (1958, TV).

Marineland is the home of Coquina and Aqe, the dolphins that alternate playing Bernie. Apparently both were quick studies, needing minimal training and an occasional bucket of fish to ensure that they surfaced at the right time and in the right spot.

If all goes well, they’ll recreate their roles in Bernie 2.

Ben Wiley taught literature and film at St. Petersburg College. At USF/Tampa, he was statewide Director of the Florida Consortium/University of Cambridge (UK) International Summer Schools. Contact him here.

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Ben Wiley

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="59a99bae38ab46e8230492c5" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Ben Wiley is a retired professor of FILM and LITERATURE at St. Petersburg College. He also was on staff in the Study Abroad Office at University of South Florida as statewide...
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