SeaWorld San Diego officially opened its new Orca Encounter on Wednesday, debuting a new educational program described as the “future of zoos and aquariums” worldwide.
“We believe you’re about to see the future of zoos and aquariums everywhere,” said Marilyn Hannes, the theme park’s president, at the beginning of the noon show.
Under the guidance of SeaWorld trainers, the giant mammals demonstrated how they hunt, play and communicate in the Pacific Northwest. Behind them is scenery reminiscent of that environment and a 140-foot wide screen that provides video and detailed information at key moments in the program.
There is seriousness in the presentation. An announcement described the killer whale as illustrating the ocean in “all it’s splendor and uncertainty.”
But there is also fun. Giant flippers splashed eager children waiting at the tank’s edge. Whales demonstrated how they scratch themselves and mimic each other.
However, there were none of the tricks that marked the earlier Shamu shows.
“I think we gave people a much better picture into the life of a killer whale,” said Hannes after the performance.
The show was in soft launch over the Memorial Day weekend, and initial audience response has been good, she said.
“We loved it,” said one family as they left the amphitheater on Wednesday.
The new encounter follows years of pressure from animal rights activists. In addition to re-orienting the show, SeaWorld has pledged to stop breeding the animals in captivity.
Also officially opened Wednesday at the park on Mission Bay is “Ocean Explorer,” which features a submarine ride and aquariums.
A third new park area, called “Electric Ocean,” is scheduled to debut on June 17.
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