Monday night I wrapped up work and headed down to San Antonio with my Dallas Zoo coworkers for the Texas Aquarium and Zoo Educators (TAZE) conference. The annual conference is held in a different location each year and is a chance for networking, learning new programs, presentations from professionals in the field, discussing issues in the field and reviving our inspiration for the work we do.
We started yesterday with a fabulous introduction to Sea World with a 6:30am arrival time we were ready for some behind the scenes activities. Groups split off and we headed for the beluga whale and pacific white sided dolphin areas. We helped prep their fish for the day, part of a total 3500 pounds of fish fed out to their animals every day. Imagine that bill!!
After helping prep their fish we learned more about the individual animals and got a chance to view several training sessions. I was highly impressed with their training program. The trainers must first pass a very rigorous swim test before even a chance to interview. The swim test is in 60 degree water and is an underwater 110 feet swim, freestyle two lengths of the pool in under a certain time, be able to pull yourself out of the pool, dive off the bridge and lastly tread water for five minutes. I thought the only thing I could possibly do would be the tread water for five minutes until they said you must hold your hands over your head while treading water. Count me out on that one too.
The animal trainers are a team of 21 in the beluga/dolphin area that constantly throughout the day are working on several husbandry and enriching behaviors with all of the animals. They train a session and then group up to discuss what happened in the session and then are back to it. The animals love the activity and they rotate through animals sometimes focusing on one and other times working as a group. Watching the different personalities was fun and my heart obviously is drawn to the younger ones that are mischievous in their demeanor.
The park is currently closed until February so we had a unique opportunity to have the park to ourselves and see what happens in this off time. When the park is open in the midst of their training sessions they also perform live shows but are not scared or hesitant to cancel a show for the animal’s welfare.
Here are a few pics from the morning experience:
After a fabulous morning you would think nothing could top that. Well, the day only got better. We continued are day with several talks that all included a heavy conservation message which was happy to hear so much of their mission is conservation and it is followed up in several unique ways. We also had a chance to visit their stingray pool full of rays you can feed and touch. This is where I learned how to easily tell the difference between males and females… The same way you do in sharks, look for clasps (finger like projections) near their cloaca and if you see them it’s a male. No clasps then a female.
Our last interaction was dolphin cove. An open tank of bottle nosed dolphins you can feed, touch, get splashed by or just watch up close and personal. Because the park was empty we had the place all to ourselves. Had there been lots of people there I don’t think I would have gone over to the area but with a small group I felt it was appropriate. It was a blast! We all got wet and acted like kids begging for more fish to feed out. The excitement was everywhere.
Lastly we were treated to a catered dinner in a shocking and breathtaking aquarium room. The picture does not do the two tanks justice as they are 300,000 and 400,000 gallons of water!! Eleven inches of glass separated us from sharks, eagle rays and many more species.
What a great day.
One more thing: Tom and I are making a video blog of this trip. As if the trip wasn’t fun enough, but give us a video camera and the fun increases 10 fold! We are having a blast narrating and recording our adventures in our own mini wildlife show. I can’t wait to get back and turn it into a smashing video. So stay tuned!!
Ok I’m off to day two. Who knows what’s to come?!? Shamu? Penguins? Oh and more conference materials too 🙂
Love marine life.