I know this is a controversial issue. I am NOT an expert on the Sea World/Blackfish debate. This post is purely based upon my own opinion and observation. I welcome your respectful thoughts on this topic.
Let me start off by saying yes, I have seen the documentaries “Blackfish,” and “The Cove.” And yes, I am sold on the notion that cetaceans should not be kept in captivity. After viewing these documentaries, I was outraged. Ok, so that’s out there. Now, let me tell you about our day at Sea World San Diego.
I admit to being a total sucker for amusement parks/fairs. I.LOVE.THEM. I love the cheesy music and the whooshing of roller coasters. I love the sweet smells of cotton candy, popcorn, and fried dough wafting through the air. I love getting our picture taken at the entrance, and then plotting our activities on the park map. It is all so exciting to me. A kid at heart, aren’t we all?
Since my husband is Active Duty Military, our family gets free entrance into Sea World once a year. Not a bad deal. Since we live in San Diego, our proximity to the park couldn’t be better, and since we have been living overseas for the past 6 years, I was long overdue for some amusement park wonder. My husband had the day off on Friday, and as much as I wanted to rebel against Sea World, I also really wanted to see what it was like now – a post-Blackfish Sea World. I originally wasn’t going to make a post about this, and keep this trip as ‘our dirty little secret,’ but after our visit, I wanted to write a post. Here’s the deal:
We went on a Friday, so, probably not as busy as the weekend – but I was still expecting a decent crowd. There were a fair amount of people there – the shows were filled to about 70% capacity, but there were NO waits for rides, which was awesome. There was only one Shamu show that day, so I am guessing that pretty much everyone at the park was in attendance — and it wasn’t full, not even close. I’m not sure how much of this is related to the Blackfish phenomena, but if you are willing to give Sea World a chance (especially if you are military), I’d say now is a great time to visit the park.
We had a great time. Estelle still isn’t walking, but the kids area there, “SesameStreet’s Bay of Play” is kid nirvana. They have a monstrous play tower/fun house, the biggest ‘bouncy’ area I’ve ever seen, and a big area for crawlers and toddlers to do their ‘thang in. Estelle loved the area for crawlers – she could have stayed there all day. They also have water play areas, carnival
games, and an arcade in the vicinity. I mean, seriously, this play area is super cool – and clean. It was a great place to break-up stroller time for E over the course of the day.
We saw two shows while we were at the park: The Dolphin show, and the Shamu Show (I know, cringe, I know). We hadn’t been to Sea World in about 7 years, and for those of you who haven’t been recently, I’ll report that things have changed a bit for the better. The shows are not as ‘spectacular’ as they once were, they are very short, and on the day we visited, there were only 2 dolphin shows scheduled, and one Shamu show.
The biggest difference to us from the last time we visited was that the animals were not asked to perform particularly spectacular tricks. They did a lot of swim-bys, splashing, waving, and a few jumps, but that was it – and the show lasted maybe 15 minutes. During the Shamu show, the trainer said that if the Orcas didn’t feel like performing or coming to the exhibition pool at the time of the show, then they wouldn’t perform – but they did. It was mostly swim-bys under the water, and some splashing. It was painfully obvious that each word uttered from the mouth of the trainer was carefully constructed by Sea World – lots of emphasis on conservation and and keeping the planet clean.
We also had the chance to visit the shark tank (while Estelle napped), the penguin exhibit, and the bat ray pool. There are many carefully supervised and sparkling clean touching pools where kids can touch a variety of animals – including docile leopard sharks and graceful bat rays. Since there were no lines for rides, my husband and I both got to ride the Manta roller coaster, which was super awesome (our first thrill ride since Estelle)! Estelle was enchanted with the manta rays, so waiting for each other was easy and enjoyable. We all rode the Bayside Skyride gondola with a minimal wait time, which was really fun, and gave beautiful views of the city.
Overall, I am surprised to say this: We had a great time. I felt some pangs of guilt as we watched the Orca and Dolphin show. I also watched my daughter’s eyes light up with wonder and delight for the first time in her life as she watched Shamu. She won’t remember this, and a part of me is happy about that. Maybe someday she will be fortunate enough to see an Orca in its natural habitat. In light of the visit, here are some take-away thoughts:
- Sea World has stopped their Orca breeding program — but the remaining animals cannot go back into the wild — and they have babies right now, so it is going to be awhile until the Orcas are phased out for good.
- I admitted to going to Sea World to a couple friends of mine who are Marine Biologists today. I was expecting to be scolded, but actually, they were like “Really? Great!” They explained that Sea World does SO much in conservation and rehabilitation efforts, and are well-respected in the business. They both agree that cetaceans shouldn’t be in captivity, but that these animals need to be somewhere until their life ends since they cannot go back to their natural habitat. They both agreed that the Blackfish portrayal was a bit unfair and preyed upon the general public’s emotion and lack of knowledge about the organization. They also both said that Sea World has world-class facilities, and that they thought it was run well.
- Our society is making a great turn towards keeping animals out of captivity. I still believe there is a place for zoos and aquariums. Many of the places we go to see animals are used for research, and why not show the public animals that we would otherwise not see in a lifetime while they are being studied? As long as the animals are treated well, and given a beautiful and respectful habitat, I’m not completely against keeping certain animals in captivity. Also, remember that there are many exotic animals that desperately need homes due to ‘animal lovers’ who go too far. Check out The Elephant in the Living Room.
What are your thoughts? Have you been to Sea World recently? Tell me!