Sea World's 15-20-minute Killer Whale show is singularly worth the price of admission, but for many, the principal players are troubling. The black and white Killer Whale is the largest predator in the sea, and my guess, after watching these agile animals, is that if you have been selected as their prey of the day, even if you are standing one full regulation football field first down distance away from the water on terra firma, your goose remains cooked. With sensational speed, power and the ability to jump high in the air to literally intercept passes, the
Killer Whale reminds me of Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears, one of the NFL's all-time great linebacker-predators. I date myself again.
The vast stadium is filled to capacity, standing room only as these mammoth creatures swim, jump, speed up, jump again and to display their apparent absolute disdain - they collectively display their ample derrieres to the crowd, raise heavy, broad tails in the air and bring them down forcefully, submerging fans foolishly located in the front rows - in an immense deluge of cascading water.
Imagine the thrill of a solitary kayaker meeting a pod of these social critters - on the open sea, their natural habitat. My wife refused to attend the show on the ethical grounds of wild animals held in captivity. Several months ago, the largest of these giants, Tilikum, at 13,000 pounds, grabbed hold of a trainer's pony-tail and drowned her in the pool in front of a startled audience. This raised the thorny issue of captivity once more. I respect my wife's view. However, I'm philosophically wishy-washy on the matter. I figure that professionally, I have an obligation to cover what millions of tourists want to see. And really, this has been the highlight of the trip for me. The mammoth whales are pure poetry in motion. But yes indeed, they are decidedly denied the open sea.
At the park entrance, the first animals we encounter are a flock of
flamingoes. I'm not sure about the correct collective noun. It might be a bevy or a riot of flamingoes. The way they stunningly look, perhaps a pride. It's the most pink flamingoes supported on long, skinny legs that I have ever seen, other than their plastic cousins lavishly displayed on a local lawn, signifying that some brave soul has reached 50 or 60 years of age. You don't see flamingoes on lawns celebrating people who reach 70 or 80. Perhaps crows would be in order or maybe koala bears with an appropriate inscription: hang in there baby!
In the middle of Sea World, there is the de facto theme park roller coaster, this one sea-goingly named Manta. I watch with incredulity as this labyrinthian beast twists, turns, dives, climbs, dives again, often zipping along at full speed with the riders suspended upside down! On one section, they hit water! Upside down! What's with the North American psyche so geared to the flamboyant excess of speedy ups and downs, seemingly in concert with a volatile stock market with its own gut-wrenching twists and turns?
Here's a description of the ride from an attendant: "Riders start in horizontal position, lifted by hydraulics to a face-down position. What makes Manta unique is the flying sensation, head down in front of your centre of gravity. The 140 foot lift hill is one of the great elements of Manta for both guests who ride and those who don't ride - for interaction. ("Have you signed your will?" one might shout.) You see them milling around, waving and talking with the riders, a nice moment in the flying experience. (Nice? As in a few last words before death?) The riders drop at 56 mph heading into the signature dive loop. The dive loop is 98 feet, head-first, face down, straight to the ground at full speed, a 3 g's roller coaster action. Sit in the back for the biggest bang. (Great tip.) After the loop, we head for a downward spiral helix, thread the needle through the pretzel loop, another inversion with close calls with the trees and waterfalls with a dip of the Manta into the water, back up to the sky, kiss the waterfalls, round the corner, another inversion and head-first dive...(I can't bear to listen to any more. My stomach feels queasy!)
Aside from Killer Apps creating mayhem, Sea World is geared to children. There are many low-risk rides and lots of activities for tiny tots. While sauntering around, we take in a zesty performance by the Winnebago High School Band, a huge group of musicians assembled from Winnebago, Illinois. They feature a compelling drum section with two young men who appear to be identical twins. An ad hoc audience assembles, grooves to the beat, and loudly claps to signal appreciation.
Manatee pool, I meet young Brandon from Morgantown, West Virginia. One of the employees shows us a manatee rib, as long as one's arm, as well as its teeth. Brandon is impressed by the teeth.
There are more animals to see, but the polar bear sleeps as does the walrus. Can't blame them; it's hot; who wouldn't welcome a siesta? At the
dolphin pool, I experience blissful Zen, watching effortless grace as dolphins slice smoothly through the water. However, as we eventually find our way out of the park, I still think of those huge, amazing and captive Killer Whales.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
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