In Depth Look at Rescue Efforts During SeaWorld San Diego Behind-the-Scenes Tour

Our trip to SeaWorld San Diego this November was unprecedented.  SeaWorld employees and tour guides treated us to several behind-the-scenes looks at their facilities, including SeaWorld Rescue and a baby dolphin tank.  We even got to feed 75-year-old sea turtles!  I had no idea the amount of rescue work SeaWorld is involved in.  From sea lions to penguins to being the first on the scene to oil spills, SeaWorld is focused on preserving our oceans.

I was struck by how all of the employees we encountered spoke passionately about the importance of showing people, especially kids, this sea life and building a familiarity with humans.  It is through this attachment that the next generation of kids can learn to love sea life and want to help conserve our planet and its animals well into the future.  These animal ambassadors are so important in promoting this generational love of animals.  I mean, how can you not love this face?


So begins our journey behind-the-scenes:


Our journey began with a tour of SeaWorld Rescue.  Day-to-day Park visitors never see this section, where so much work goes into caring for recovering sea animals.  Seals, birds and sea lions were being cared for that day through SeaWorld Rescue.  Here’s a chart to show just how many have been helped:


Several sea lions were recovering, including one from a fishing line that was wrapped around her neck.  So sad to see, but so good to know that we can help them.


Fun Fact: Scrubbing seals and penguins and other sea life with Dawn dish soap is the best way to rid their fur of oil after an oil spill.

We then made our way to the penguin tank, where Lauren explained that penguins are perhaps the best sea life ambassadors.  We proved that point.

Our Tour Guide brought us to a backstage observation area where all 12 of us immediately exclaimed “aaaawww!” and started snapping pictures as the CUTE penguins sunbathed, swam and waddled around.


Meanwhile Lauren was discussing some of their behavior, but it might as well have been the Charlie Brown adult, “wa wa wa” for all we were paying attention.  Finally she realized this herself and ended by saying “…and blah blah blah, you’re watching the penguins and so not paying attention to anything I’m saying…”  We all caught that and started laughing.

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What’s cooler then penguins? Sea Turtles, of course!


We visited momma and poppa sea turtle, and their 48 kids!  These were the first sea turtles to breed in the wild.  They are so comfortable in their SeaWorld home they were able to breed.


As part of the backstage tour, we were even able to feed the turtles!  They eat heads of lettuce.  But for a fun treat, the caretakers throw in a whole bunch of bell peppers in their tank.  They have to figure out how to eat them by bashing them against rocks so they are small enough to eat.  Sea turtles look so wise. I feel like if we could talk to them, they’d have a LOT of wisdom to impart.


Walking to our next destination, sharks, we wandered past beautiful sea life sculptures.  But come up close and you learn that they are created from some of the most disgusting stuff on earth – human trash that has been thrown in the ocean.   These sea life sculptures were created by the environmental art group Washed Ashore as part of SeaWorld’s 50th Anniversary Celebration.  Amazing that such beauty came from such filth.

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We then visited the sharks.  One of the ways SeaWorld promotes sea life is experiment with artificial insemination.  It has worked brilliantly with penguins, so they are now trying it on sharks.  One of the facts that blew my mind, but I perhaps should have known: sharks are fundamental to healthy oceans.  If you’ve never been to the Shark Tank at SeaWorld, I’m here to tell you that it’s a trip!  You walk through a glass tunnel in their tank, so sharks are swimming around you, above you and beside you. It’s pretty neat.


Explorer’s Reef is new this year.  Right when you walk into the front gate of SeaWorld, there are three easily accessible pools, each with different sea life you can interact with and touch.


The employees at Sea World wanted a way for people to connect with sea life right away, hence, Explorer’s Reef.  You can pet bamboo sharks, a variety of fish and one of the newest, most interesting experiences – cleaner fish!


These fish are used to cleaning other sea life, they take off parasites and dead skin and gills.  Well, when you stick your hand in the water, those little cleaner fish start to clean you!  They take off dead skin and suck any bacteria away.  It feels very weird at first, but once you get over the initial shock, it’s very soothing.  Explorer’s Reef is yet another way SeaWorld is connecting people with animals, perpetuating our ability to keep our earth intact.


When you think SeaWorld, you think sea life, but SeaWorld also has a whole wing of other animals you can visit and interact with.  It’s called Animal Connections.


We were able to (carefully) pet porcupines and alligators while learning about them from their handlers.


My favorite was Ruby the screech owl.  We were able to get very close to her, but not pet her as she can be “feisty.”  Yet another employee explained just how important these connections are.


After all this animal connecting we were pretty hungry.  Well, has SeaWorld got a great meal deal for you – Dine With Shamu!  You dine on great food right next to a killer whale tank.


While you’re eating you can watch the whales swim, and a trainer explains more about how they live.  You learn while you eat, which is great if you have kids.  Meanwhile, the food is the healthiest and best I’ve ever eaten at a theme park.  No fried foods here!  Farm to table spaghetti squash gratin. Ginger-sesame salmon, excellent fruits, veggies and meats.


I highly recommend Dine with Shamu.  On SeaWorld’s website right now, you can book in advance for $34 per person.  In my opinion, this is a great deal.

When you think of Sea World, you think of the shows. We were able to see two shows, and it’s amazing to watch human and animal working together in such unison.  The killer whale show featured a mom and her three kids.  They would leap and twirl together, what a thrill!


But the dolphin show was my favorite.  So many dolphins leaping and twisting together!  It was really cool.  Each show was also another small lesson in the connection between humans, animals and our earth.  They drove home the whole point of SeaWorld – to help perpetuate a love for life that will keep our earth healthy for years to come.


Perhaps my favorite moment was a one-on-one connection to sea life – dolphins!

My husband got to give one a fin bump, and I got to pet one.  They are so social, they love interacting with us as much as we love interacting with them!  Absolutely adorable.  And their expressions?  Well, dolphins make me want to learn even more about our unfathomable oceans.


Right after our visit, SeaWorld San Diego announced the birth of their seventh baby killer whale.  The park reported that Kalia, 10, gave birth at Shamu Stadium under the watchful eyes of the SeaWorld’s zoological team members.  The birth occurred at 12:34 pm Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014.  Kalia’s mother, Kasatka, was with Kalia during the labor and delivery.

SeaWorld San Diego

Baby killer whale born at SeaWorld San Diego, image courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment


After a 17-month gestation, Kalia’s calf, estimated to weigh between 300 and 350 pounds and measure between 6 and 7 feet, was born in Shamu Stadium’s main show pool following a little more than an hour of labor.  Seconds later, the baby whale swam to the water’s surface to take its first breath.  The park’s zoological team members report the mother and baby appear to be healthy, but as with any newborn, the first few days are critical.  Trainers and veterinarians will continue to monitor the calf and mom around the clock to observe signs of bonding and the baby beginning to nurse.  The calf’s sex is yet to be determined.

SeaWorld San Diego

Baby killer whale born at SeaWorld San Diego, image courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

SeaWorld San Diego

Baby killer whale born at SeaWorld San Diego, image courtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment


DISCLOSURE: Sarah Woloski and family were hosted by SeaWorld San Diego as part of the TMS Family Travel Conference for the purposes of learning more about their animal care and rescue operations.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Richard & Sarah Woloski

Richard and Sarah Woloski are the co-hosts and creators of the Disney / Star Wars Podcast Skywalking Through Neverland. The husband and wife team strives to create a polished, positive and fun weekly show celebrating fandom. They also love writing for Adventures By Daddy. Find them @SkywalkingPod