Marine Mammal Keeper Experience at Sea World

Here is a whole lot of pictures and review of our Marine Mammal Keeper Experience at Sea World in Orlando, Florida. I may be very wordy for this blog (which is primarily geared towards family and friends), but I want to give a full account in case anyone out in the web world is looking into doing this in the future. I know we did a search of "Marine Mammal Keeper Experience" and found blog posts that were VERY helpful to let us know what to expect as we planned our trip. So hopefully mine will do the same.

First off, this program is EXPENSIVE! But, if you have the $ and love marine mammals... GO FOR IT! I was always the kid who wanted to be a Marine Biologist, just so I could play with dolphins. We would never have been able to afford the $399 per person, but someone had won the tickets in a web contest and was moving and therefore sold them on Craigslist for a fraction of the cost. We were very blessed to be able to do this. It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

So, we made sure we got a good night's sleep because we had to be there at 6:30 in the morning. We packed a bag with our bathing suits, camera, and aqua socks (didn't need aqua socks). The literature they send you tells you where to park. It tells you to park in the "visitor" spots, which we found meant the spots that say "reserved". We got there at 6:25 and waited for out keeper. We got Lauren as our guide for the day! She is friendly, chatty, funny, and full of information. We are chatty too, so it worked out well! We spent a lot of the day behind the scenes (no pictures allowed there). The first thing we did was feed a pool of rescued manatees Romaine lettuce. We chucked 2 boxes worth out there. Then with the 3rd box we filled up a tube with lettuce that sinks to the bottom so they can practice grazing on the bottom like they do in the wild.

Then we worked with 3 dolphins that were being kept in the back for observation. As soon as they saw their keepers they started jumping and getting so excited. It was cool to see how each dolphin has a different personality and temperament. The keepers worked on some target behaviors. The dolphin I was working with kept reverting back to her favorite trick because she did not want to do what was asked. Then is was time to feed and weigh the otters. The otters are funny as well. They were separated in 3 different pairs and each pair had their own temperament and dynamic as well. We were not allowed to touch them (they can bite), but they were fun to watch.

Then it was time to "suit up"! In other words, squeeze yourself into a wet suit! Not fun! I have never been in a wet suit before, so it was the weirdest feeling thing to wear. And the best advice I have for you is... go to the bathroom first. Once you get that suit on, you do not want to take it off for any reason!

Our transportation everywhere was a golf cart. They give you a bottle of water and a towel to take in case you need it. Then we were off to the Key West Dolphin Cove to visit with some dolphins. At each place you meet a different keeper that takes you through some interactions with the animals. At Key West we met Nick.

Key West Dolphin Cove

We went to the shallow area with Nick and 4 of the Dolphins came over. They hang out in same-gender groups, so we got a group of boys.
We got to feed them and do a few behaviors with them. Nick gave us a bit of Dolphin 101.
The Dolphin in Nick's face is Ajax. He is sort of the low-man on the totem pole and is basically the dolphin version of a "lap dog". He loves to get your attention and be right in your face. He is mine and Levi's favorite. You can tell him from the other dolphins by his spotted mouth.
Getting to rub down the dolphins.
I think that one is Ajax. He is an in-your-face type of Dolphin.
I swear the animals always seemed to get me more wet than Levi! Here I am about to get a face-full of water.
Some pictures from the other angle that Lauren took with our camera.

Underwater Viewing

After that we went to a storage shed where we picked out a few simple toys to play with the dolphins with. Then we went to the underwater viewing area to do some "enrichment" with the Dolphins. You hear the word enrichment a lot. They do a lot to make sure the animals have opportunities to think, problem solve, play, and basically not get bored. The funny thing is, they loved some of the simplest toys.

They loved watching Levi juggle. Their heads would go up and down as they watched the balls go through the air.
We played football and the dolphins would follow the ball between me and Levi.
Pinwheels were fun too!
The noodle made a squeaking sound on the glass which they liked.
More juggling fans.

They liked watching you push the car in front of the glass.

This toy was the funniest to me. It is just a little wind-up pony, about a inch tall, that jumps along. I thought there would be no way they would pay any attention to it. But this picture is worth a thousand words. Look at how into this toy they are!
When Lauren showed us the feed station there was all the dolphins' food for the day lined up, but one in particular caught my eye. There is a dolphin named "Callie". It is even spelled like my Callie's name!

We found her in the underwater viewing! Here she is... Callie the dolphin!


Next we went over to feed the manatees. There are 6 manatees. We fed them bagged spinach, which they love. We were not allowed to touch them, but they are amazing to watch. Something about a manatee seems to peaceful!

After that we went over to the Dolphin nursery and met some of the mamas and babies there. There are also 2 males in the tank that are rascals. Lets just say they like attention, and when they did not get it they splashed me.

We had some time to kill because we were running early, so we saw the fish house and what they have to do to get the fish ready to feed all the animals. It is amazing how much fish they go through in one day and what all they have to do to keep it in order.

Then we zoomed over to the wild artic to interact with some Belugas! Boy were they amazing! Here were are in the exhibit. They had 2 on exhibit and 2 in the back.
See, I always get splashed the worst!
If you drum your fingers on the top of their head like you are playing a piano, they make a cool noise.
My Beluga kiss!
Levi's Beluga kiss!
Awww... a hug!
Doing some tricks.
Levi did not even get splashed!
Another way to get them to make a cool sound like an air horn! They are called the canary of the sea because they can make so many different noises.
Then we went to the back where we got to do some things with Oreck, the Beluga.
Another kiss!

This picture really shows how squishy his head is!

She let us do some behaviors with him on our own. Towards the end he got to where he trusted us. At first he was not so sure. Here I am doing the sounds behavior again.

We also saw the harbor seals at the Wild Arctic area. They were so cute! They came out and immediately started kissing. And that was not even the behavior she was asking them to do!
This is where the pictures end. Next it was time to get out of the wet suits. And boy do those things stink when you take them off, but my body felt free again! We showered off, got dressed, and then went to lunch. You have a choice of taking your box lunch and eating in the park or in the staff caferateria. My advice, if you like your guide stay in the staff caferateria. We basically say with a whole table of the keepers we had been meeting through the day. We talked and laughed and had a great time. They give you a box lunch with your choice of meat on a croissant. We both got chicken salad. Then you have potato salad, fruit, huge rice crispy treat, and a cookie. We talked about all sorts of random stuff like Mariah Carey and trying out for American Idol.
Then we went to see the seals. On the way we say these cute little duckies!

We went to the harbour where they keep the seals. There are some in the back that required special care. We went and learned about them. Then we went out with 2 big buckets of fish and fed the seals. As we were throwing the fish out there was one seal that could intercept any fish I was throwing to another seal. I would check to make sure he was not around and as soon as I threw the fish, up he would pop out of nowhere and snag it. It was amazing!
Then we went back to the wild artic to see the polar bears. Polar Bears are obviously a no-contact animal so we looked at their biggest bear through the glass and she told us about their care. It is amazing how strong they are.
Then came one of my favorite parts.... the walruses. They have 2 walrus on their Wild Artic exhibit, Garfield and Dozer. When we opened to the door to go see them you could hear one of them making a huffing noise in his exhibit. He knew we were there and he was letting us know he was ready to eat! The keeper went out to get them. When they come around the corner it is amazing! They are HUGE!!! You can not appreciate the emormity of these animals until you are face to face with them. They have a barred door where they can come up to be fed, but a person can slip through in case of an emergency. They stuck their heads through the bars and they seriously take up the whole hallway. They have so much personality. Garfield makes a clicking noise until he gets fed. And they both make a variety of funny noises! We got a walrus kiss on our hand. It is the coolest feeling!
After that we were done! We looked at our pictures and it was hard not to buy them. The nice thing is they offer an option of buying all of them on a Shamu Tail shaped flash drive. So we bought the flash drive. The experience also came with a 7-day park pass. So we came back the day before we left. I found Lauren and Nick at Key West and said hello again. They were so much fun! I will miss them! We also went to the dolphin viewing area and found ways to get the dolphins to play with you. There were some kids down there too, so we showed them some tricks. They thought that was cool. One little girl in-particular captured my heart. It was weird being on the other side of the exhibit when we went back. When just a few days before you were hugging and touching all the animals, it was hard to just look at them through glass.
So for those people who might be considering it: So worth it, So much fun!
Sea World will never be the same for you! It will be better!