Yet again, I had to spend five hours cramped on a plane (I'm not fond of air travel, can you tell?) but when I arrived at camp I had more than enough time to relax in the dorms before dinner. Pizza was dinner, as usual for the first night. After we finished eating, we had our orientation and expectations meeting. Then we got somewhat of a surprise - despite the fact that the summer season at SeaWorld was technically over, they had decided to put on the night shows anyway! We all headed for Sea Lion, Walrus, and Otter Stadium and sat down to watch the show. Let me tell you, "Clyde and Seamore's Movie Madness" is probably my favorite SeaWorld show ever. It was hilarious! They poked fun at movies ranging from Star Wars to Grease to Pokemon. Of course, since there were over 40 campers sitting in the stands, they couldn't help but have a few jokes at our expense. ;) Once that show ended, we headed for Shamu Stadium to see "Shamu's Hollywood Night Magic." While it didn't have the same spunk that the sea lion show had, it was a really fun show. It was quite amusing when they played "What is Love" before the show started, to see a few thousand people, in unison, mimic the infamous Saturday Night Live sketch. Winnie, Kayla, and Keto performed in that show, but Ky did not. Afterward, we returned to the dorm and had our girls' meeting before bed.
This year, our group started out on bird day. We got to polar about 7:30 am, and took a tour of the filters and systems and such. Then, since we were early, we headed back to the exhibit to learn more about the penguins - from an upside down position no less. (By laying next to the tanks on our backs, we could see the effect that countershading on the penguins had when viewed from below) Next it was time to feed the penguins their vitamin fish. Of course, me and another girl were assigned to the rockhoppers, who we quickly learned were not really into being hand fed. We managed to get vites to nine of them - out of a few dozen. Apparently that's rather normal for them. Anyway, we moved on to shoveling out the snow piles, then it was time to get in the water!! This year, though, our wetsuits were infinitely thinner! That didn't stop us, though. Our group was so enthusiastic about being in the water with the penguins that no one complained at all. In fact, after we posed for pictures with Mr. Big (who by this time had figured out how to swim much more gracefully) we were invited to swim out into the deeper water! Amid gasps of shock as 47 degree water filled our wetsuits up to our necks, we begged the counselor accompanying us to take pictures. Then, with childish grins, we turned around and waved to the jealous public who were looking on in disbelief at the teenagers who got to swim in the exhibit. When it was finally time to get out, we left the exhibit area to change back into our sweats. Of course, only a couple of people at a time could fit in the changing room, so the rest of us, clad in dripping, SeaWorld-emblazoned wetsuits, watched the penguins and talked to the guests, who mainly wanted to know how they could go in the penguin exhibit and if the water was cold. :) Once we were all changed, we headed back into the exhibit and shoveled some more snow. Our counselor decided we should all go back in and work whether we had dried off yet or not, since that was what the aviculturists did. True to form, our group didn't complain once and rather enjoyed going back into the exhibit, even if our hair was practically freezing into icicles on our heads (swimming + below-freezing exhibit = bad combination for hair and body heat). Of course, they payoff was getting to play with the penguins again when we were finished. So, once again, in full view of the public we sat down and played with the little penguins who crawled into our lap. After lunch, we headed to the bird house and fed all the birds there. Then, pulling out several large boxes full of wood, beads, rope, and other doodads, we sat down and built toys for the parrots. After that we went back to the dorm for review and free time. Dinner that night was at the Oaks, a cafe in the park. Then it was ride time! We went on the Steel Eel of course, (I have yet to lose my fear of that ride, yet I go on it every time!) then a ride on the Great White. After a bit of shopping, we had the bright idea to go on the Great White and just stay on the ride multiple times since there was no line. Needless to say, three trips around the track later, we all stumbled off the ride, heads reeling. It took all night for my head to recover from that one.
The next day was whale and dolphin day!! We did breakout and a walkthrough of the stadium, then the trainers took urine samples from the whales and irrigated Kayla and Ky's teeth. Next stop was White Whale and Dolphin Stadium, and found out it was "play day"! Since it was the first day that the animals had not had a show in a few months, the trainers chose to let them have a day of play time. We went up to the show pool and ran back and forth in front of the glass, tossing fish while one of the belugas followed behind us to gobble them up. Then we headed back to one of the holding pools to play with the lags. We tossed tons of fish into the pools, sending the dolphins into a frenzy as they raced for the food. Then, it was time to do the BIP! We changed into our wetsuits and got into the water. We had a special surprise as well - this year we got to do a "dorsal" tow with the belugas! This is something that the public does not get to do in the regular BIP program, so we were very lucky! We split into two groups, and myself and two other girls swam out to the far end of the pool and waited. I was chosen to be the lucky first to go. Martha the beluga swam up to me, and I was incredibly amazed at being able to swim with her. Not just stand on a ledge waist-deep in water, but actually be swimming with her, looking her in the eye. I had never before been that close to any whale or dolphin out in deep water like that, and it was an unforgettable experience. I dimly heard the trainer tell me to go ahead and take hold of her dorsal ridge, the small hump where dolphins have a dorsal fin. I held on tight, and suddenly, she was speeding across the pool! Well, as fast as belugas speed, anyway. I gripped her dorsal ridge tightly, but it was still hard to keep from slipping. The ride was over all too quickly, and I let go and stepped onto the ledge, grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I watched as the other campers went, yearning to try again. Martha started acting up, though, since she was relatively new to doing this behavior with people other than trainers, and so we didn't have a chance to get hugs and kisses, but I was more than content with the opportunity of a lifetime that we'd been given! We headed into the trainers' office and dried off, then sat down to play "SeaWorld Jeopardy." Being a self-proclaimed SeaWorld obsessee, I quickly dominated the training, dolphin, and killer whale categories. Each time we got a question, the other members of my team immediately looked at me. In the end, our team thoroughly whipped the other team. After lunch, we headed back to Shamu Stadium, where we broke into groups to play with Keto. The groups were spaced along the glass of the show pool, and Keto was sent from group to group, where he was tossed fish and ice cubes, squirted with a hose, and with our group, he watched us play leapfrog. If a killer whale could make a "what-in-the-world-are-they-doing" face, well, he was making it. :) We headed to one of the back pools to play with Ky. As he watched us approach, one of trainers dropped to his stomach and motioned for us to imitate him. Grinning, he told us that since Ky insisted on watching us approach, we should roll to the other side of the pool as sort of a "hide-and-seek" game. So of course, giggling all the while, we did. And as we finally stood up, we looked over at the pool to see that Ky had followed us all the while, and was now intently staring at us as if to say, "I knew where you were the whole time, now get over here and play with me!" We grabbed a big boomer ball and carried it to the side of the pool, where we took turns throwing it in and letting Ky retrieve it and knock it back at us. Those things are much heavier than they look! I think I managed to throw it a whoppin' five feet. After that, we did afternoon breakout, then it was time for whale hugs! This year, we all had the chance to hug Kayla. I'd forgotten how amazing it was to feel a killer whale rise up to give me a hug, her rostrum resting gently on my cheek. Absolutely incredible. We then watched another exercise and husbandry session with the whales, and watched them train Keto to do a "marlin", where jumps straight up into the air and shakes his open mouth from side to side. Then, one of the trainers showed us "fluke identification," where they find the blood vessels in the flukes for blood draws, and, well, to say any more would be to say too much... ;) You'll all just have to go to camp to find out exactly what happens next. For dinner that night, we went to Fuddruckers, then came back and played basketball in the employee parking lot. Most people opted to play volleyball instead, so it was just five of us campers and three counselors on the court. We played campers versus counselors. It was a neck-and-neck match, but we campers pulled off the winning basket! Of course, I learned an even more important lesson that night: never eat a heavy meal then try to play basketball in 95 degree heat.
Aquarium day!!! We got up early and went purse seining again, but instead of a competition, this time it was all of us working together to beat the summer-long cichlid record. In the end, we caught five Texas cichlids, smashing the previous record for the summer by three fish! We attributed our success to the fishing song one girl in our group sang as we worked. We headed for the aquarim, where we scrubbed buckets, then fed the cuttlefish and toured the aquarium. After lunch, we did a shark feed, feeding the nurse sharks and sand tiger sharks from tongs. The sand tiger sharks scared me every time - when they turned towards the tongs, they would whip their head to the side and grab the tongs and fish in one giant bite! All the while, the hammerheads would sneak up on us, trying to get the fish, and pop out of the water, scaring us to death! We tossed fish chunks into the water for the hammerheads, then headed out to change into our wetsuits. We got into the holding pool to do the new "Shark Interaction Program." For me, this turned out to be one of the surprise hits of the week! We got into the "shark cage" first, looking at the sharks in the main exhibit through bars. Some of them would pass mere inches from our face! My favorite part of all, though, was when we got into the waist-deep pool of stingrays. They would slide up our legs and investigate us, searching for any food. It felt soooo strange, but I loved it! The rays were sweethearts! There were three baby spotted eagle rays in there as well, a rarity in aquariums! One of the aquarists loved photography, so he took pictures of us with the rays as we swam and waded. We stopped to feed the sharks in the out-of-park holding area, then headed back to the dorms for review and free time. After Ma's Tacos for dinner, we had a lecture from one of the head people in the Education Department about transporting animals. She had been invited to go with the killer whales (Keet, Keto, and Summar) moving out of the now-defunct SeaWorld of Ohio as they were sent to other parks. Then we headed back to the dorms and hung out for the evening.
The next day was spent at Sea Lion, Walrus, and Otter Stadium. We got there and did the usual breakout and then scrubbed down the food prep area, then sat in the trainer office an talked about positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. Outside, the trainers were working with the walruses, training them for voluntary blood draws. So, they let us help out!! When it was my turn, I approached Iliak, the huge male walrus. Kneeling next to him, I followed the trainer's instructions, putting pressure on Iliak's back, then giving him a quick, light pat to simulate a needle going in. Iliak did wonderfully - he didn't even flinch once, and was well rewarded with fish and squid. Then we headed out to the stage, where a photographer from a San Antonio newspaper was taking pictures for an article about the camp. I stepped up to the edge of the pool and looked down at Dylan, a California sea lion, who was waiting in the water for me to give a signal. At the trainer's word, I gave Dylan the signal to go to the platform on the right side of the stage (the left as you look from the audience), then I sent him on a backflip! I was soaked, but with the heat, I didn't mind it one bit! I also got to give him the sD (discriminative stimulus, or signal) to "talk," then gave him a rubdown. After everybody had had a turn, we headed back to the office and played the training game. In this game, one person is the "animal" and one is the "trainer." The "animal" goes out of the room while everyone else decides what behavior they should perform. When that person returns, the "trainer" uses sD's and reinforcement to try to shape the desired behavior. After we finished that game, we went outside to watch an invention of the trainers at Sea Lion: "Sea Lion baseball." That was unique! One person pitched the ball to another person, the batter, who stood next to the scale. One sea lion waited by the scale (behind an invisible line set by the trainers) and as soon as the batter hit the ball, the sea lion took off down the hallway toward a pool on the far side. Another sea lion, waiting by the pool, had to pick up the ball and bring it back to the batter before the "runner" sea lion got into the pool. If the "runner" beat the "fielder", then he was safe, otherwise he was out, just like in baseball. And just as in baseball, they played three outs to an inning. This game was hilarious, and the sea lions really seemed to get into it! Sometimes the "runner" would inch over the line (which was trained, so they knew where they couldn't go past) when the trainer wasn't looking, almost as if to cheat! We took a break for lunch, then came back and made a playground for the otters, complete with hidden food. When the otters were back in their pens, our counselor offered to take a group picture of us sitting on the scale. Naively, we all handed over our cameras and clambered over each other food a good spot in the photo. Then, we looked up to find ourselves face-to-face with the business end of a hose, held by a trainer... needless to say, mayhem ensued and everyone was soaked! In between ducking sprays of water, we managed to pick up the plastic pool the otters had been playing in and chase the trainer down the corridor with it, but of course by the time we cornered him, we had already lost most of the water. We did manage, however, to gain control of the hose and get revenge. Then, soaked to the bone, we all posed for that group picture. We said goodbye to all the trainers there and headed for the Clydesdale barn. This time, most of the Clydesdales were there. We spent a good forty-five minutes talking to one of the people who works with the horses, and he brought out a huge horse, Lee, for us to have our picture taken with. We stopped by the Marine Mammal pool and played with the dolphins for a bit. I was the only person in the whole group whom any of the dolphins would let touch them! We then got to do a bit of shopping at a store that had been opened specially for us, then headed back to the dorm for review and dorm cleaning. We had pizza for dinner, then had a talk from a keeper from polar about his research trip to the Galapagos. Then came the scavenger hunt! We weren't allowed to run this year, but yet again it was exactly the same, and our group STILL only came in second! Oh well, must be a curse...
My last day of camp!! I don't think I even thought about it then, but as an incoming college freshman, it was my last day at a SeaWorld Careers Camp. We got up bright and early for Animal Care's massive breakout and washed the food prep area down. Then we headed out to feed the dolphins. We all ended up soaked as the dolphins splashed us endlessly. We fed the harbor seals and sea lions, and saw the young California sea lion pup, Hunter. After breakfast, we watched physical exams on the beluga whales, then visited the record room. After doing afternoon breakout, we headed back out to feed the dolphins again. Kai was a pig!! He kept shoving the other dolphins out of the way to get food. When the food was gone, we threw a couple of buoy balls into the water and played ball with them for ages. We stopped to see two dolphin calves in holding, one of which was only nine days old! They were absolutely adorable. After lunch, we changed into out wetsuits and jumped into a holding pool! In one spot we could watch Jump and Thetis, two of the lags. in another area, we could watch Clicker, a bottlenose dolphin. Of course, we couldn't resist our own mini-swim test, trying to dive to the bottom of the 16-foot pool. Easier said than done when you're wearing a wetsuit! then we joined up with another group at Shamu Stadium and got into the med pool there! It was a blast! Since we had wetsuits, the tainers let us stay in the water a lot longer this year. I was one of the first people in and last out, and never got out once! I think almost everyone else got out at least once to warm up. I could, however, dive to the bottom of the 12-foot med pool with a wetsuit! Keto, Kayla, and Winnie watched us through the gates. For dinner, we had Subway sandwiches, then took the test. Still seemed as easy as the year before! There were very severe thunder and lightning storms, so no one was allowed to go outside that night. We hung out in the dorms and took pictures, saying our goodbyes.
So, what did I GET out of spending so much money to go to camp for three years running? Foremost in my mind is this: I got the opportunity to work with animals that many people will never even see, let alone interact with. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I took it and loved it. For ANYONE who thinks they might want to work with animals, whether at SeaWorld or another institution, I highly reccommend this camp! They don't sugar-coat the job, and you learn exactly what goes on in an animal care job. I'm sure more than one person to come out of that camp had the reality of working with animals hit them in the face: it's not all playing with cuddly animals. There's a lot of hard, dirty work involved. But if you put in the time, it pays off and you get to interact with some of the world's most incredible animals! This camp really reaffirmed my desire to work with animals in one way or another. I'm sure other people have come out of it thinking the opposite, that working with animals is not for them, which is just as important of a lesson. So, at the risk of sounding like an advertisement, if anyone wants to check out this camp, head for www.seaworld.org and look at the Adventure Camps. I hope you enjoyed reading my LONG account of camp!
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