Sure, sea lions are cute when you seem them in movies and doing tricks and such. On the other hand, I find them a little creepy when, watching a documentary, there are 200 of them piled up on the rocks just off the coast. Also, they’ve got big, black teeth. And they’re loud. And, while I know that sea lions aren’t the same thing as seals, my one close-up interaction with a seal wasn’t exactly a movie moment — unless the movie was a bad horror film.
That was back in the day, when I was working as a reporter for Suffolk Life newspapers out in Riverhead, New York. Okeanos, the marine rescue and research foundation, was releasing a rehabilitated harbor seal back into the wild. I can’t remember if he was in rehab for booze or drugs. Ha! Nah, he’d been injured or beached himself or something. Either way, they’d put a radio collar on him and locked him in a room by the time I showed up to take a picture. One of the folks there said, “I’ll open the door and you can take a couple of photos.” So I got into a crouch to take a eye-ball-level photo, the door was opened and the seal — all 300 pounds of him — charged right at me. Maybe he was cranky because of the collar. Maybe he didn’t want to leave. Maybe he really needed a drink. The worker closed the door in the nick of time and I didn’t have to go through life horribly disfigured and known till death as Kenny Sealface.
At any rate, Nicholas and I are down here in San Antonio, Texas. Most years I go home to Louisiana for the week of his birthday and we end up sitting around my mom’s house — which is fine for me, but not the most memorable thing in the world for him. It also drives me crazy that he could easily spend the entire time inside planted firmly in front of a computer or an Xbox. So this year, we decided roller coasters and amusement parks and such. San Antonio is a relatively quick 7-hour drive from Opelousas and it is home to a Six Flags park, Sea World and numerous other attractions — and there’s a Schlitterbahn waterpark close by that we’re going to check out today.
Anyhoo, as part of this trip — and thanks to some friends with connections to the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau — Nick and I ended up with a ticket to an animal interaction at Sea World. It’s the sort of add-on I likely never would have considered. “Grumble, grumble, spend money to go touch a fish for five minutes, get your finger bitten off, grumble, grumble.” But I was definitely excited about it. And I hadn’t told Nick anything, just to keep it as a surprise — well, as much as possible, considering you had to show up early and there was a big sign that said Sea Lion Interactions.
Things got off to a great start when they took us to a behind-the-scenes area and made us sit in a little classroom to watch a video about conservation — you know, because the bordering-on-cult-like-religious aspects of the video that plays before the shows like One World (Shamu) and Azul (beluga whales, dolphins, parrots, lady in a bird suit). What was really great about this was that the classroom was air conditioned. Here’s the thing about Texas in the middle of the day during June. It’s hot. So I would have watched three hours of conservation footage AND run a call center to raise money to fight Global Warming at that point, as long as that sweet, sweet a/c kept running.
But alas, we were then shuffled into another room to put on wet suits. Know what’s NOT the proper attire for a summer day in Texas? A full-body wetsuit. In black.
Luckily, they drove us to the sea lion stadium in golf carts. There, we gazed at some of the untrained animals before walking into the stadium where the sea lion show is held.
Then we jumped into the water (blessedly cold) where the sea lions perform, swam across and climbed up onto the stage.
As a kid, I’d go to these parks and watch the show and think, “Man, how cool would it be to just jump in there? How cool would it be to be on stage?”
Pretty damn cool, it turns out.
As some of you may know I even tried to be a marine biology major, but found myself too lazy and stupid to stick with it. So this was the closest I was going to get.
At that point, they brought Elroy the big-ass sea lion, out onto the stage and we did a few routines, touched him and swam with him. I guess after all the build-up, I should go on and on about this part, but just look at a few pictures. I don’t smile in photos. It drives people crazy (and by people, I mean my mom and Cara). I can’t even fake smile. My son has inherited this genetic deficiency. So, let’s just let a few photos do the talking.
Psst! Have you donated to my Team in Training fund, yet? Help fight cancer!