My typical visits to SeaWorld are to observe and report on the well-being of the animals there. Yesterday was no different, other than adding a few other animals to the list of growing concerns at the park.
Yesterday was the debut of SeaWorld Orlando’s highly anticipated “Antactica: Empire of the Penguins” attraction. This attraction has been 2 years in the making and is the largest expansion in the park’s history at almost 4 acres. The attraction was being compared to Universal Studio’s Harry Potter attraction and Disney’s new expansion of Fantasyland, but my prediction is that it will fall way short.
Opening day brought four hour lines for the ride, which had to weave back and forth into the neighboring Pacific Point. I haven’t been to Pacific Point in many years and was surprised to find C640, a branded sea lion from Columbia River.
According to Sandy McElhaney, Sea Shepherd Dam Guardian, C640 was branded on the Columbia River on 3/5/2007 and was transferred to SeaWorld on April 28, 2008. Why? For “stealing fish”. This sea lion was eating, and the fisherman didn’t like it. For more information about this branding and killing of sea lions at Bonneville Dam, please check out the Dam Guardian’s website: http://www.seashepherd.org/dam-guardians/
SeaWorld tells a different story, saying in this video that this sea lion is now “on the straight and narrow, no longer stealing fish” The sound on this video is terrible due to the crowded line for Antarctica but you can hear parts of her explanation. I was shocked to hear that at an exhibit promoting sea lions, C640 is still made out to be the bad guy.
After the 4 hour line in the heat, it’s time to experience Antarctica. Visitors have the choice of choosing the “Wild” ride or the “Mild” ride. The wild ride spins and turns through the life of Puck, a baby penguin. The most exciting part is Puck’s first plunge into the water where he is chased by a leopard seal. The seat bumps as he tries to get away, but after 4 hours with no visible restroom in Antarctica, the adventure is more of an annoyance. At the end of the ride, you are dropped into a frigid room of 250 penguins. The exhibit looks smaller to me than the exhibit that was destroyed to build Antarctica. Reportedly, one species on display has still not been into the water yet, freaked out by the change. Visitors are at arms length of the penguins, which I’m sure adds to the stress. They have only been in the display for 2 weeks, previously housed for the past 2 years in the avian center away from public view. And I have to wonder where the puffins are that were part of the original penguin encounter. Nowhere to be seen here.
A stop at SeaWorld would not be complete without checking on Tilikum. He was in the underwater observation yesterday afternoon during and between afternoon shows. As he made laps around the pool, his eyes were barely open and he would stop frequently at the gate. He was alone in the pool, and was only observed to have brief periods of interaction from the trainers above. After swimming for a few minutes, he floated at the surface near the gate. It was clear that even the guests who wanted to see Tilikum were not impressed by an animal who is clearly bored, broken and depressed.
Repeatedly in recent history, SeaWorld’s attempts to promote their animals have failed. Turtle Trek, the last exhibit to open, is also very small and has not drawn the crowd that they probably hoped for. From the buzz I hear around the park, most park-goers are there to ride Manta and the other rides. Nobody wants to go to watch a stationary whale, a sea lion “thief”, or scared penguins.