It’s 4.30am and the alarm is going off!! What’s going on!! Just wait until I can reach DH across this kingsize bed and I will give him a clip around the ear. He’s messed up the alarm
Wait a minute. Sorry DH. It’s Marine mammal Keeper day at Seaworld
I’m out of bed like a shot and I’m singing before my feet touch the floor. I get myself ready and as usual, DH is already waiting for me in the car. We have our swimwear, non slip shoes, Seaworld letter and big smiles.
It is amazing how many cars are on the I4 at 5.30….I thought it would be deserted. Anyway, we are well on time and waiting with the security guy in his office for the member of staff to start at 6am.
When she introduces herself, I like her straight away. Her name is Erica and she has a smile on her face just as wide as mine. Erica will be with us all day. We chat for a while about what we will be doing today and we have our lunch order taken.
It is still dark when we go behind the scenes to a manatee who is a bit under the weather. She is a rescued manatee who SW have actually had before and released only to find her injured again. We open a box of lettuce and give her them….the whole box. Then, we move on to another holding area where there are two orphaned manatee. These two will be released when they are strong enough and they have breakfast from a bottle which is full of nutrients. The staff don’t like to pay too much attention to these guys as they don’t want them to think of man as friends. SW in Orlando is one of only three centres authorised by the USFWS to rescue and rehabilitate ill, injured, or orphaned manatees. I like manatee, they are huge but so gentle.
Next…..still behind the scenes, we go to see two baby otters. We take the babies and give them a bath in warm water. They take some persuading to get in the water but once in, they have a great time and are so cute. This was to be one of DH’s highlights of today. When it was time for the otters to be dried, DH and I each took a towel and an otter and did our best. At first, we were nervous in case we rubbed them too hard but, we got there in the end.
When we go back outside, it is daylight but we still have plenty of time before the public will be here. It is fantastic wandering around the park with no one else there. We manage to see some of the animals as we pass on our way to the dolphin nursery. When we get there, about 10 members of staff are in wetsuits and the pool is drained to about three feet. One of the female dolphins needs medical treatment and she needs to be separated from the others. We are told that we can watch as closely as we like as we won’t get in the way because all of the staff are in the water apart from one who is the ‘looker’. This dolphin isn’t too hard to separate. The staff make a wall of legs which gradually gets longer as the sick dolphin is trapped at one end of the pool. DH and I stand directly above her and watch her being treated. She gave birth 3 months ago and has lost weight since so she needs to have blood tests done. Four members of staff hold her and she doesn’t struggle as another takes blood from her tail to be analysed. Next, she needs to restore her normal body weight and as she isn’t eating, she has to be tube fed essential nutrients in liquid form. A funnel is attached to a plastic tube which is gently inserted through her mouth to her stomach, then the formula is poured into the funnel. While all of this is going on, most of the other dolphins are staying up the opposite end of the pool but there are a couple who are trying to see what’s going on with their pal.
It doesn’t take too long and the staff one by one break the wall of legs leaving just the four who are holding the dolphin. They then countdown. 3, 2, 1 and release. It takes no time at all for the dolphin to be back swimming with her baby.
When we pass here later in the day, the pool water is back to the normal level before the gates open and the public arrive.
We are now heading over behind the scenes again and Erica tells us as we walk that she used to work at Lowry Park Zoo which is where she met her boyfriend who now works at Animal Kingdom. We tell her about the animal interactions we have done on various trips to Florida. We then find ourselves in a huge warehouse full of fish and ice! Erica takes us through the different fish they have and tells us which mammal gets which fish and how much. By now, bits of me are freezing and are about to snap off so I am relieved when we leave to go into another warehouse which is the food preparation room.
Next on the list for Erica was to check up on a dolphin in a holding area and feed him. He turns out to be a cheeky fella who likes getting you wet. He is going back to Dolphin Cove later today after recovering from swallowing something he shouldn’t have after a member of the public dropped litter into his water. Next, we go and play with two dolphins …. We also give them jello which Erica has made for their Christmas treat…..they don’t like it and let it float out of their mouths and as it dissolves, they dart about looking for it.
Next on the list is the manatee rescue area. We don't interact with these manatee at all, just watch them. Erica tells us about some of the rescues and that these manatee will never be released as they wouldn't survive. We get to see the recue van that they use and the equipment to lift the injured animals etc.
We then find ourselves heading for the staff canteen. Lunch is sandwiches which we chose earlier with a box full of odd bits. There was potato salad, a HUGE rice crispie square, a fruit salad pot, a cookie, and something in a tub that I didn’t recognise and didn’t like to ask what it was. We also got any cold soda which was refillable.
Then, Erica utters those dreaded words. “It’s time to get your wetsuits on guys” Great. My big belly is now even bigger from all the soda and you want to put it in a wetsuit. Off we go in a one of those buggy type vehicles to the other side of the park. We get chatting about Aquatica and Erica tells us that the Commerson dolphins are about to arrive for the new park.
Once we have our trend setting wetsuits and shoes on, we’re back in the buggy and heading for Dolphin Cove. When we arrive, it is announced that everyone has to step away from the wall as staff are about to do some dolphin interaction……you may as well have stuck a red flashing light on our heads as everyone turns to look at us….in our wetsuits. Then, an amazing thing happened…..I didn’t feel stupid/foolish/fat/frumpy/all of the above. I felt special. Special in my wetsuit.
DH and I were separated and had one on one time with the dolphins. I fed a couple of dolphins who thanked me with a kiss from one and a hand to fin shake off the other. We then went through some other hand signals etc. This time was so special and I didn’t care who was watching, I was loving it.
The public were allowed to step back to the wall and we went over to the underwater viewing area after choosing a ball each. We bounced the balls off the glass partition between us and the dolphins and soon we got a lot of attention as they tried to catch the balls etc.
Now, we are off to behind the scenes at Clyde and Seamore where some of the staff are playing with the stars of the show. We feed a couple of sea lions here before heading over to Pacific Point Preserve. Here, we go behind the scenes again and pick up a bucket of fish each. These buckets are FULL…..would have cost a fortune to buy this amount of fish from the stand. People are looking in awe as we feed the fish to the sealions……another feeling special moment. Then, a not so special moment as we head back to the preparation area and have to scrub the buckets clean and boy did they take some cleaning.
Never mind, the scrubbing of the buckets was all a distant memory as we meet Garfield. This guy is one of the Walrus from the Clyde and Seamore show. Remember how huge he is when you see him on the show….try standing next to him and you feel so slim. This guy is great and has a good character. What I can’t get over though is his eyes, they look like they are popping out of his head. We give him some food so he doesn’t waste away and we then make a fist with out hands which he kisses. I rub my hands on the back of DH's wetsuit and we are off again.
PART TWO FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY BELOW......
My favourite part of our whole holiday is next. Meeting the belugas. Once again, DH and I are separated. He goes with a trainer behind the scenes and I go with a trainer on show to the public. I have a bucket of food and find myself on the opposite side of the pool where the public watch the whales from. We sit with our feet in the water and in about five seconds, a belugas head pops up in front of me, followed by another. I am so excited to be this close I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I wave hello and get a flipper wave back. I then rub one of them and I am amazed at how soft they feel. I imagined it to be like rubbing a dolphin but a beluga is quite squidgy. I’m asked if I want a cuddle from one of them. My voice is very high pitched as I say “Oh, go on then” I lean forward and make a huge circle with my arms and before I know it, a beluga has popped up into them. Heaven. Then, I am going to get a kiss from him. I sit with my head tilted to one side and lean forward. He comes over and I feel his face against mine…..I’m crying by now. This is a memory that I will never forget. I am then given a pole by the trainer and told to place it anywhere over the water which I do. The beluga comes up out of the water and touches the ball on the end of the pole. We do this a few times before we feed them. I don’t want to leave these guys.
Next, we go behind scenes at the polar bear exhibit. There is only one bear here right now, the others are out front. He has a Christmas tree to play with and the staff tell us how they are going to give the bears their presents in the morning.
That was about the end of our experience on the Marine Mammal keeper. We went back to change and shower. We were each given a t/shirt that the SW crew wear when they go on rescues and a book. We really enjoyed our time here today.
On the way out, we stop by guest services to pick up our CD with the photos from today on. There is no way I am going to lose this CD….I can’t wait to get back home and get some of the photos developed.
(When we get back home, I find that the CD only has the behind the scenes at the sealion encounter and nothing else. I am so thoroughly disappointed and I can’t believe that I don’t have the other memories on photo. I write to SW and after two weeks, I get a letter back from the director of operations apologising for the missing photos. He says that he will refund the money we have paid for the CD. It’s not the money I want……it’s the photos!!!!!!!!!!!!):mad: