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Published on May 6th, 2009 | by johnivanko

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SeaWorld San Diego: Making a Splash outside the Splash Zone

When they caution people about sitting in the “splash zone” at SeaWorld San Diego, believe it.  Really.  They should call it the soak zone.  It’s a great way to cool off on a hot day, but it can ruin any electronic device you own not placed in a watertight case.

My family and I had an opportunity to visit SeaWorld San Diego this past January.  Among the most popular attractions in San Diego, SeaWorld San Diego welcomes over 4 million visitors a year with their sea animal performances, aquariums and a few amusement rides.  SeaWorld San Diego’s aquariums feature more than 5,700 fishes representing 434 species.

While SeaWorld San Diego has a long way to go to earn the distinction of being an ecotourism attraction, the park uses revenues from its admissions to actively implement conservation and animal rescue initiatives, even if they’re only softly mentioned throughout the park in signs and during announcements before animal performances.  After all, we can’t start caring about nature if we don’t have an opportunity to interact with it.  And for that, SeaWorld has honed its craft to capture the imagination of young and old alike and rekindled for many an awe and wonder that many of the avid conservationists and naturalists enjoy daily.

Instead of volunteer docents associated with living history museums providing interpretive programs, highly trained communicators and performers narrate the story of Shamu and friends as well as other exhibits throughout the park.  In a world where a connection to nature couldn’t be more important, SeaWorld can jump start a greater appreciation of it, even if our understanding comes with splashes and tricks.  Like they say at the Shamu Show: “We belong to the same family…”

There’s a lot to fascinate a small child or family at SeaWorld San Diego.  But I was more amazed by what most visitors never witness, at least not directly, in the park:  the SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program and a water filtration system that actually makes the water cleaner than when it first enters the park.

While some parks or zoos may actively breed endangered species and other parks foster hands-on interpretation, SeaWorld San Diego uses the revenues from the park to fund the SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program with the objective to return rehabilitated animals to the wild (not, as some people might suspect, to become performers in their shows).  About 60 to 70 percent of the 200 or more animals rescued each year are rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

The SeaWorld Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program focuses on sea turtles, seabirds, whales, seals, dolphins, sea lions and sea otters. According to SeaWorld, between 1990 and 1994, more than 3,000 stranded animals were rescued by or brought to SeaWorld parks. SeaWorld of California alone received more than 960 mammals and, following successful rehabilitation, released 484 of them.  SeaWorld of California has treated as many as 475 marine mammals in a year. Aviculturists rehabilitate as many as 400 birds each year.

As one might imagine, water is a big deal at SeaWorld San Diego, drawn from Mission Bay in San Diego.  The water enters two filtration systems on the east and west sides of the park.  Each day, the east side utilizes 1.1 million gallons and 1.7 million on the west side.  All of the animal areas in the park have their own filtration system and at no time does SeaWorld cross water between systems or tanks. Each animal habitat utilizes a sand filter system, which filters about 600 to 1,200 gallons per minute.

“The bay water is filtered and treated, and put back in the bay cleaner than it was before,” says SeaWorld San Diego Director of Water Quality Michael Tucker.   “Even the rainwater and water splashed from the show pools is collected and treated before it is returned to the bay.”

Given our own experience at Inn Serendipity, we’ve come to recognize that we need to connect more people to nature, in our case through organic food, renewable energy and green building.  SeaWorld San Diego does it through their animal programs and other interpretive activities throughout the park.

Perhaps Baba Dioum said it best:  “For in the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

Photo credits:
John D. Ivanko, Shamu “Believe” Show, photographed with permission from SeaWorld Public Relations

SeaWorld San Diego (A harbor seal is released back into the Pacific Ocean after rehabilitation at SeaWorld San Diego.)   SeaWorld San Diego is one of 10  “Worlds of Discovery” operated by Busch Entertainment Corporation.



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