The Washington Times - July 6, 2008, 12:37AM

By Jacquie Kubin, Donne Tempo Magazine

Orlando, Florida… After a day at Discovery Cove, the underwater excitement continues with your pass allowing you access to SeaWorld, Orlando, Florida, also owned by Anheuser-Bush

SeaWorld offers plenty of thrills, with high speed roller coasters such as Journey to Atlantis and The Kracken, or the park’s Shark Encounter exhibit that takes visitor’s on a journey over a hundred million years to met the most awesome predator of the sea as you journey through their habitat courtesy of the world’s largest underwater viewing tunnel.


Shamu, SeaWorld, Orlando, FL (Photo courtesy SeaWorld)

Yes, SeaWorld is a theme park.  It is a place to ride fast roller coasters and be enthralled by exciting shows. But it is also a place to find a real world educational experience. However, with its array of sea lions, otters, dolphins, rays, fish and crustacean habitats, and, of course the Orca “Shamu.”

A park guest may not realize that Orlando’s SeaWorld is a marine mammal  and wildlife education and conservation facility first, theme park second.  SeaWorld scientists,  zoologists, rescue teams and trainers work around the world to save animals, from stranded whales to injured sea lions, while sending a steady message of conservation, research, environmental awareness and animal rehabilitation.

A tour around the “back lot” behind the rides and exhibits visitors will find a large green sea turtle being rehabilitated after being sucked into a water treatment plant, manatees recovering from encounters with boat propellers and dolphins who will hopefully be, someday, returned to the wild.

These tours provide visitors with the opportunity to meet a penguin up close, get a bit closer to the shark and Shamu exhibits, go backstage at the Whale and Dolphin Stadium or visit the rescue and rehabilitation facilities.

To tour the “behind the scenes” Rescue and Rehabilitation area and to speak with the young people who are so passionate about their roles as caretakers makes one want to go out and do something to help these benevolent and marvelous animals

And you are.  By visiting the parks you are, in various ways, helping to financially support the groups efforts and by bringing your children  introducing them to the wonders of all the marine mammals and wildlife that Sea World and Discovery Cove offers, you are, hopefully, giving them a message  about how important our Seas, and those living things that inhabit them, are.

I Wanna Be A Manatee

A rescued baby manatee is handfed (Photo courtesy SeaWorld)

Well,  except for the boat propellers, trash and fishing lines that hurt them. Oh, and the water pollution. That is not so good for them either.

Luckily for the manatee, and people who love them, SeaWorld Orlando is dedicated to manatee rescue and rehabilitation, helping sick and injured animals recover  and assisting their release back into the wild.

The SeaWorld Animal Rehabilitation program is a big part of the groups’ commitment to animal conservation and protection.

“The manatee is a resilient animals,  and they are able to recover from a lot of different things, said Mr. Jon Peterson , Rescue and Rehabilitation.  “I find it amazing to see how graceful and peaceful they are, and how, when you take a rehabilitated animal  back to the water,  how quickly the adapt back and accept  the environment. “

The manatee is often referred to as a sea cow because it spends its life peacefully grazing the plant life on ocean inlet floors, sleeping, reproducing and grazing some more.  They live a serene, undersea life with no real predatory fears other than man.

Unbelievably, this placid animal can move at speeds up to 12 mph, if they need to.

The SeaWorld Orlando facility provides medical care and intervention to the manatee including raising orphans from pups to being old enough to release into the wild.

“This pair of manatees has been hand raised and fed and have no fear of humans at all,” Mr. Peterson says, referring to a pair happily munching on chunks  of floating lettuce.  “They are almost ready to be released into their natural environment, but first we need to teach them to graze and eat roughage foods, versus the bottles they have been feed prior to this,  before they can be let go.”

In addition to the manatees, SeaWorld also has active Sea Turtle and Dolphin rescue and rehabilitation programs.

The Penguins and Puffins

It may be the harsh conditions, or the exorbitant cost, that keep people from journeying to the Antarctic to view the King,  Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Adélie penguins that  habitat  that frozen tundra.

Anita Schiavoni-Gibbons, Supervisor of Aviculture, Sea World Orlando (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)

Early explorers thought penguins were fish because of their graceful swimming skills.  However the sometimes comical, always fun to watch animals, are actually flightless birds that spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea.

Tolerating the harsh conditions of the Antarctic has led them to develop a thick layer of blubber and a dense network of feathers that act as insulator and water repelled.  They eat fish, krill, and small crustaceans and are a favorite treat of seals, Killer whales,  and when very young, seabirds such as gulls who eat the young chicks and, if they can get them, the eggs.

The colony we have is composed of the same species of birds that would naturally congregate in the wild,” said Anita Schiavoni-Gibbons, Supervisor of Aviculture, Sea World Orlando.  “Of course, in the wild they live in much larger colonies.”

For Ms. Schiavoni-Gibbons, the penguins are a favorite bird because they are so very unique and adapted to their environment. 

“Many of the birds you see here today are the grandchildren of chicks  I raised from eggs many years ago,” Ms. Schiavoni-Gibbons says. “It is so rewarding to watch them select mates, and raise their own broods.”

SeaWorld Penguin Encounter (Photo by Jacquie Kubin)

The Sea World Penguin Encounter is a popular place.  The cool, dimly lit room has plenty of space to stand and watch the birds interact with each other, swim,, frolic and just get down and play.  You will also see the birds, every now and then,  catch sight of a human and follow them,  respond to them. 

Ms. Schiavoni-Gibbons states that even in the wild, they are not afraid of humans and actually seem to enjoy approaching and interacting with them.  Which may have led to their downfall, however thanks to increased awareness and groups dedicate to saving natural habitats the penguin populations are returning to healthy levels.

But with Global Warming, scientists warn,  that could change as warmer waters cause reduction in the fish supply, it become harder for the chicks to survive as they become a food of choice and are unable to find the food stock they need to survive.

The Alcid family of birds is a group of stocky black-and-white seabird that includes the Puffin.  Sailors who ate the eggs and birds, harvesting their feather for fashion use, hunted the Puffin to near extinction in the late 1800’s.

These birds live in Northern Hemisphere colonies along the rocky coasts of the North Atlantic and Pacific and Artic oceans cramming themselves amongst the ledges.  While the Alcid family can fly, they are most comfortable in the water, spending the first 3-5 years of their lives without ever touching land.

“They have short stubby wings and can fly short distances,” Ms. Schiavoni-Gibbons says.  “Today the North Atlantic Puffin is at risk and there is an combined effort of environmentalists and the Audubon Society to reestablish the birds from the more robust colonies in Iceland and Greenland.”

“Fortunately we are a conscious society,  and we are more aware of what is happening in our environment  and we are certainly helping to change the environment.  We need to continue to find ways to stop negative influences  like cars and pollution,  while continuing to be aware of what is happening in the environment and trying to protect  these wildlife habitats,” Ms. Schiavoni-Gibbons says.

A class meets a group of penguins (Photo courtesy of SeaWorld)

Being able to get a close up view of these wonderful birds is a treat and a first step in learning to appreciate, and protect, our global environments.  SeaWorld Orlando, in their ongoing educational mission, has daily questions and answer periods that are quite popular.  During these periods one family is awarded the opportunity to interact, and feed, the birds.

All this combines to make a day at SeaWorld more than just another theme park visit.  It is day spent gather information, both actively and passively, that our world is special, as are the many species of animals, known and unknown that inhabit it.

Behind the scenes tours require advanced reservations and guests should visit the SeaWorld web site for additional information.

Jacquie Kubin is editor and writer for Donne Tempo Magazine