DADE CITY — Marco Peters started out operating a touring shark exhibit, but an unexpected telephone call about 20 years ago in California changed that.
The caller, from a marine-mammal rescue group, was seeking help transporting two stranded sea lions. Peters dealt with fish, not mammals, but he soon had a new mission in life.
Within a year, he established Sea Lion Splash, a traveling sea lion show that features mostly rescued animals and has a base of operations in Myakka City.
“They are unique characters and personalities,” Peters said of his co-stars.
Peters and his sea lions will be among the featured performers at the 67th annual Pasco County Fair, which begins at 1 p.m. Monday with a parade through downtown Dade City.
The fair gates will open at 3 p.m. at the fairgrounds, 36722 State Road 52, though the sea lions, fresh from a gig at the Florida State Fair, won’t arrive until Tuesday.
The theme of this year’s fair is Let the Good Times Grow. As usual, those who attend will be treated to numerous displays and events, such as a Celebrity Milk-Off with well-known Pasco residents trying their hand at milking a cow; farm animals raised by area students; and carnival rides.
Fair President LeAnne John said “every precaution” is being taken so the Pasco fair doesn’t experience anything like the Florida State Fair did Feb. 7 when a crowd of young people carried out an annual practice known as wilding that got out of control.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office planned for the annual stampede, but deputies quickly became overwhelmed as a small group of teens swelled to hundreds of people running and pushing everyone and everything in their path, Sheriff’s Col. Jim Previtera said.
By the end of the night, the fair closed early and one teenager among the 99 people ejected for disorderly conduct was killed; he was hit by a vehicle while crossing Interstate 4.
Twelve people were arrested on charges including trespassing and fighting.
John said the fair is working closely with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Dade City Police to ensure security is in place.
“We have a great community and I’m hoping everything runs smoothly,” she said.
Peters said he is excited about his and Sea Lion Splash’s first visit to the Pasco County Fair.
Three times a day, fair visitors will be treated to a 22-minute show and educational presentation. They will learn about sea lions and efforts to rescue and protect them in their native environment.
Although sea lions are not found in the wild in Florida, Peters said some of the dangers they face — such as becoming entangled in fishing lines or other debris in the water — can also apply to Florida sea life.
Sea Lion Splash isn’t just one long educational lecture, though.
“There’s a lot of fun in the show as well,” Peters said.
Fairgoers don’t even have to catch a show to view the sea lions. The exhibit is open between shows and people are welcome to drop by and take a look.
“You can get something to eat and watch them a little bit,” Peters said. “That’s what most people do.”
Animals are featured in other shows at the fair, too. Robinson’s Racing Pigs, a longtime fair staple, showcases pigs trying to outrun each other to become the first to gobble down an Oreo cookie at the finish line.
Kachunga and the Alligator Show will educate fairgoers about Florida’s favorite reptiles.
The fair also includes magic, comedy and music shows, such as the 1960s tribute band Yesterdayze.
The shows are free with gate admission.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children 6 to 12.
On Tuesday, fairgoers get a price break, with $3 admission for all ages. Parking is free.
Those who want to spin around on the midway rides can buy wristbands that allow an unlimited number of rides for one price on a given day.
The wristbands cost $18 Monday through Thursday and $22 Friday through Feb. 23.
Fair hours are 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and noon to 7 p.m. Feb. 23.