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SeaWorld - South End: Believe


Rating: * * * * *
Type: Live stadium show
Time: 25 minutes
Kelly says: The acme of the SeaWorld experience

Could there be a better job than being a killer whale trainer and being shot 30 feet into the air off the nose of a 5,000 pound orca? You won’t think so after seeing this razzle-dazzle demonstration put on by the dashing young SeaWorld staffers who spend their time teaching the Shamu family some awesome tricks (although the trainers prefer the term “behaviors”).

Actually, they aren’t “tricks” at all in the common sense of the term. They are simply extensions of natural behaviors that have been reinforced by the whales’ trainers with patient attention and liberal handfuls of smelt. Nor is Believe to be confused with mere entertainment. In keeping with SeaWorld’s commitment to conserving the marine environment and saving endangered marine species, this show teaches important lessons about the realities of nature and the importance of the marine mammal husbandry practiced at SeaWorld Orlando and its sister parks around the country.

The stars of the show are members of the family Orsinus orca, commonly known as killer whales and affectionately known by nearly everyone who visits SeaWorld as Shamu. The first killer whale ever captured was named Namu after a town in British Columbia. Shamu means “mate of Namu” in the language of British Columbia’s native people. Of course, different whales appear in different shows, so the mammoth performers in this show are, in a sense, playing the role of Shamu.

The “stage” is a huge seven million-gallon pool filled with man-made salt water kept at a chilly 55 degrees (although the whales are used to much chillier water in their natural habitats) and completely filtered every 30 minutes. At the back is a small island platform for the trainers, above which looms a large structure in the shape of a killer whale’s tail fluke and four video screens that move, merge, and spin as the moment requires. The front of the stage is formed by a six-foot high Lucite wall that gives those in the first several rows an underwater view. Downstage center is a shallow lip that allows Shamu to “beach” herself for our enjoyment.

On film, we are told the story of a young lad who carves a wooden pendant in the shape of a tail fluke and dreams of swimming with the orcas. When the focus switches from video screen to stage, we discover this kid has grown up to be a SeaWorld trainer. It’s a touching story, but the real focus of the show is the awe-inspiring and absolutely delightful interaction of the whales and their trainers. The whales leap, glide, dive, and roll with a grace that belies their huge size. The trainers ride on their charges’ bellies, surf the pool on their backs and, in the most breathtaking moments, soar high aloft, propelled off a whale’s snout. Many times, two trainers working with two whales will perform in perfect synchronization. They make it look easy and natural, but my guess is that it is fiendishly difficult to pull these tandem tricks off.

The video backstory pays off in a segment toward the end of the show in which a future orca trainer is summoned from the audience to meet Shamu and the tail fluke pendant is passed to a new generation.

The warnings that precede the show’s grand finale are in deadly earnest. If you’re sitting in the first 14 rows, you’ll likely get very, very, very wet. Actually, it’s possible to sit in this section and escape a drenching — I’ve done it. But if you happen to be in the direct line of one of the salvos of chilly salt water hurled into the audience by the cupped rear fluke of a five-ton whale, you will be soaked to the skin. It’s pretty much a matter of luck. Some of the biggest laughs come when people who have fled the “splash zone” for the higher ground of the first promenade get nailed anyway by a particularly forceful fluke-full of water.

The best seats in the house. Many kids (especially 9- to 13-year-old boys) will insist on sitting in the splash zone and will feel cheated if they don’t get soaked. But adults should consider sitting here as well. If you wear a rain poncho (which you may already have from a visit to another park) you can protect yourself relatively well, and these seats do offer an excellent view, especially underwater. But the seats higher up, where you are assured of staying dry, offer excellent sight lines and the video coverage of the show assures that you won’t miss anything.

Tip: Between shows, follow the pathways that ring Shamu Stadium to locate the ramp to the Underwater Viewing Area around back. This is a not-to-be-missed perspective on these magnificent creatures. Especially enchanting is the opportunity to watch Shamu and her much smaller calf, Baby Shamu, swimming gracefully in tandem. The whales are rotated through this viewing pool, so there’s no guarantee that a specific whale will be there when you drop by. There are benches in front of the picture windows and if the crowds are thin enough you can watch while you rest.

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