But, if you are a diver and you like marine life, this will still interest you...
Last week, we went on a short “Family” vacation to Orlando. Since I have a non-diving spouse, I promised her there would be “zero” diving related activities during the week. And, unfortunately, I kept my word.
Although I didn’t dive, I did participate in something that was just as cool and would be very interesting to anyone that dives and likes marine life. For my first Father’s Day back in 2007, my wife gave me the go-ahead to participate in the “Marine Mammal Keeper for a Day” at SeaWorld, Orlando. I had seen this program during a Travel Channel show called “Top 10 Aquariums” and was dying to do it.
The morning of my experience, I arrived at SeaWorld around 0615. The experience started at 0630 and they asked us to be there 15 minutes early. Just a little after I showed up, the other two participants showed up. (They only have three people per day do the Mammal Keeper) Katie and Nicole; Two High School seniors that were on vacation from school in New York. Right at 0630, Johnathon, our guide for the day, showed up. He checked all the paperwork and then took us into the back lot of SeaWorld. This was where the main “Fish House,” where they prepared the 4000 lbs of fish for food each day, was located, along with the rehab area for dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, birds and sea otters. The vet’s office and surgery buildings were also located back here. We watched the keepers tube feed a sick dolphin and we helped feed mending dolphins. We fed the rehab manatees and watched Jonathon bottle feed Jackie, an orphaned baby manatee. We toured the vet/surgery areas, the sea otter/birds rehab area and fed the manatees in the exhibit area of the park. We also went in the Fish House and helped prepare the food and formula for the otters and Jackie.
After all of that, we went across the park and changed into our wetsuits. As we were coming back across the park, we noticed the park had opened and the people were filing in. Next, we went to the “Dolphin Nursery” to feed and play with that small group of about 9 dolphins. That’s when we noticed that not everything we do that do is going to be “behind the scenes.” We went out into the crowd with or buckets of fish and into an “Employees Only” area. All the dolphins came to our side and we started feeding them. Jonathon taught us hand signals to use with the dolphins and we actually performed a “show” for the crowd gathered there. It was VERY cool to here the cheers of the kids when the dolphins did their thing. There a small crowd of about 50 people at this exhibit. Next, we headed to “Dolphin Cove” where we did just about the same thing. The biggest difference, there were 22 dolphins and about 200 people gathered around. After about 30-45 minutes at Dolphin Cove, we headed to “Wild Arctic” where we did another interaction with Beluga Whales, this time. Same thing: Feeding, hand signal and small tricks. If you have never felt of a beluga whale, it’s like grabbing a thick piece of Jell-O. Not a hard part on their bodies except for the jaws and a small part of the spine. These three interactions alone were worth the price of the experience. But, we were also able to interact and “play” with seals, sea lions, sharks, sting rays and even a 900 lb walrus named Dozer. We saw behind the scenes with Polar Bears, Sharks and Penguins. The thing that kept amazing me was how clean everything was, even behind the scenes. Even the places where the fish was prepared all day were cleaner than an operating room. It was an amazing day.
If you ever decide to participate in this experience, here are a few things I learned to help you out: First, you are not behind the scenes all the time. If you are not comfortable in front of crowds, don’t do it. You are in front of the crowd for about 3 hours of your 8 hour stay. You need to bring NOTHING with you. They have the wetsuits for you to wear, including the booties. They have locking lockers for you to store your personal items in at the wetsuit building. There is even a towel in the locker for you to use when you get back. (Although, none of us got wet enough to warrant the wetsuit or the towel.. You never get “in” the water. Always just beside it.) The wetsuit building also has showers in case you need it. The SeaWorld photographers do follow you around during the Dolphin and Beluga Whale interactions and take about 180 pictures of the group. (Or, that’s how many they took of ours) These picture are available at the photo booth at the end of the day. Instead of looking through 180 pictures, I just purchased the CD with all of them and printed off the pics I wanted in album or on my website. They also give you a t-shirt and a book about SeaWorld rescue and rehab efforts. Although the experience is $400 for the day, I, personally, feel it was worth every penny.
I’ll post a few pics as soon as I can resize them for web viewing..