Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Whale of a Good Time

Can I just say that life is WONDERFUL? No, really. I mean, life is truly and completely fantastic. Here I am, in a beautiful hotel room, in beautiful San Diego, eating a delicious lemon creme brulee with blueberries on top, amazingly supportive husband by my side, and I feel so overwhelmingly HAPPY. I mean, so much happy I'm not even sure if I can contain it all. I might explode.
Today was incredible- one of those days that surely I will remember for the rest of my life, and look back on fondly.
We arrived in California last night and are staying at the Dane Hotel on Mission Bay. It's beautiful. The weather has been perfect, really couldn't dream it better if I tried. Blue skies, sun shining, but not blisteringly hot, occasional cool breeze, not too humid. It's just perfect. Picture a perfectly comfortable, beautiful sunny day and that's what today (and yesterday) has been.
Today we went to Sea World. Anyone who knows me knows I have a HUGE affection for marine life. I'm infatuated with the sea and its creatures. I'd rather go to Sea World than Disneyland. By a lot. I started the day a little nauseous, but toughed it out through the morning and by noon was feeling pretty darn good.
At 1:45pm, we had to meet in our swimsuits for the Beluga Interaction Program. We arrived on time, and our small group trickled in and then the trainers showed up. Off we go!
The first part of the program was a bit of behind the scenes stuff at the Wild Arctic exhibit. We met their 3000lb male walrus first, and got to feed him, and he even gave kisses. In case you didn't know, 3000 lbs is kind of... massive. He was a sweetheart, though. It was funny to watch the other people in our group stand as far away as possible from him. I wanted to crawl right in his enclosure and get to know the big guy!
Then we went to the polar bear habitat. Obviously we didn't get to meet their resident polar bear, Snowflake, but we learned about how her habitat works, what their procedures are to ensure all her caretakers are safe, and learned  bit about their Polar Bear breeding efforts. Apparently Snowflake was just recently inseminated and their other female (don't remember the name) was sent to Pittsburgh for a live mating, so if either or both take they will be expecting cubs! That's great for the species, which is in big trouble in the wild.
I don't like the concept of animals in captivity to be spectacles for people to gawk at their whole lives, and I know a lot of zoos and entertainment places are like that. But, the more I learn about the inner workings of a lot of these places (ok, so mostly I'm talking about the San Diego Zoo and Sea World, because those are the only places I've had personal inside looks at, the more I see that the whole theme park aspect is really just the financial support for their more important efforts in conservation, rehabilitation, and education. I have a lot of respect for that, and what they do is admirable.
After that, it was off to the Belugas! When we signed up, we had to give our sizes so they could have the appropriate wet suits ready for us. Right now, my jeans are a very comfortable size 4, but I figured "meh. Wet suits are pretty snug, I better go up a size or two. Plus, I'd rather have to ask for a SMALLER suit than a bigger one." I put Women's 8. So, I go in my dressing room and there hanging on the shower rod was the suit of death. It was tiny, it was curvy, and it looked terrifying. Challenge, accepted. I've never even WORN a wetsuit, but boy was I glad they literally had a video playing in the dressing room explaining how to crawl into this contraption. There was a timer on the screen, too. Ten minutes. That's when we had to be ready. I took the suit off the hanger, put one foot in, then the other. I must have fat ankles because they didn't even want to go on. But, alas, I made it. Whew. Seven minutes to go. Wait, seven minutes?! It took me three minutes to get my ANKLES into this thing!?I better hurry. I shimmy my way into the suit. I am certain I looked absolutely ridiculous as I twisted and turned, pulled and pushed, shimmied and shook my way into this wetsuit. Finally, it was up to my waist. Three minutes left. I had three minutes to pour the rest of my body into this thing. I pulled it up my arms, sweating and tired. But it was on. And with two seconds to spare. I spilled out of the door, and was the last to meet my group. I felt like I had put myself in a vacuum packer. I was like 10 gallons of hot mess shoved into an 8 gallon bucket. I walked over to Jon, feeling accomplished. Then I had a daunting thought: how was I going to get OUT of this thing, especially wet?! I leaned over and told Jon I'd definitely need help peeling myself out of this contraption. Then I remembered this silly thing was supposed to be two sizes bigger than the jeans I was wearing! What. a. joke.
But, our group was ready, and all us vacuum packed folks made our way to the beluga habitat where we were given some ground rules and instructions. They let us know their baby beluga had not been ready to be a part of the interactions yet, but if she did well with her trainer we may get to see her up close, but were not to reach out and touch her. Eek. Baby whale?!
We spent the next 20 minutes in the water, waist deep, interacting with and admiring these beautiful animals. You really can not grasp how incredible these animals are until you're up close with them. They are stunning. Super sensitive, and so gentile. It's inspiring to see how trusting and docile they are towards people. It is such a shame that there aren't more efforts put forth by people to protect marine life. These animals are so amazing. It breaks my heart that we as a society are so selfish and careless and oblivious to the fact that our ways are destroying natural habitat. It's one of those things I've ALWAYS cared about, respect for animals of ALL kinds (except spiders. Screw those guys....) is huge to me, always have been, but something about today just snapped it back to the forefront of my mind. We NEED to care more.
After a while the baby beluga, Pearl, had been attentive enough with her trainer that we were offered a rare treat. She was going to come over to the ledge we were standing on so we could see her up close! Compared to the massive animals we had been interacting with she was just a little bitty thing. It was amazing to see how much individual personalities there were between the three of the whales we met. They were nothing alike, and "little" Pearl was a goofball.
She liked to play and splash and spit water at us, even if she wasn't asked to. She was so cute. It was very interesting to watch her trainers shape her behavior through positive reinforcement only. They used special whistles instead of clickers, but it was essentially they same. Her trainer told us we could reach out and touch her gently at one point, which we didn't think we were going to be able to do, but gladly grabbed the opportunity. She was so soft to the touch, her flawless skin such a pretty shade of grey. The touch startled her (they are VERY sensitive creatures) so her trainer had us try again, this time marking the touch with her whistle, which told
Pearl that this was a GOOD thing, and that GOOD things (food reward) come from these strange people touching her. After that she was completely comfortable with it. From my understanding (and I COULD be wrong) we were the first guests to touch baby Beluga Pearl.
Today was one of the best days ever. My heart is happy. I love my life.

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