May 10, 2011

Chilly Fun With Beluga Whales On The Beluga Interaction Program!

During the summer of 2010, I turned 21. Instead of asking for birthday money to use on drinking adventures with my 21+ friends, I decided to save all of my gift funds to participate in the Beluga Interaction Program. As a frequent visitor to SeaWorld Orlando, I had fallen in love with the belugas and always enjoyed watching the interaction in Wild Arctic. So, sometime in June 2010, I signed up for a slot of the interaction and prepared myself for an icy afternoon with my favorite white whales!
The Beluga Interaction Program is definitely my favorite behind-the-scenes tour at any park, SeaWorld or otherwise. The tour began when we met a SeaWorld educator who took us behind-the-scenes at Wild Arctic, where we donned a wet suit and boots and settled in to discuss the rules and protocol of
interacting with the animals. Once everyone understood the dos and do nots of beluga interacting, we were led to the back entrance of Wild Arctic. There, we met three seals who were lounging in a back pool area. We also got a look at the back pool for the belugas, which is shielded from the public view and is open to sunlight for when the beluga want to do a little sunbathing.
Once we entered the building, we met with a trainer who welcomed us and gave us background information on the belugas. The beluga is one of only two species of the family Monodontidae and its closest relative is actually the narwhal! The trainer described the training techniques used, all of which
were based on the concept of positive reinforcement. She also showed us the toys the belugas most enjoyed, including a number of large plastic balls and one giant stuffed Shamu that they liked to follow around when it was waved in front of the glass of the tank. Next, the trainer led us to a room where they prepared the food for all of the animals in Wild Arctic. Each animal had a specific diet based upon their nutritional needs, and each diet was diverse and included a number of different items.
Finally, it was time to meet with the belugas. We were led out into the beluga exhibit where SeaWorld guests could watch us from the other side of the tank. We knelt down on the icy surface and were instantly splashed with chilly water! When the belugas came up to meet us, I was surprised by how large they were up close. During the interaction I met with Maple, Aurek and Klondike, SeaWorld’s three whales. The trainer led us in a number of training exercises that included teaching the whales how to blow their “foghorn,” squeak, and wave hello to spectators. We even got to touch the whales, giving them hugs and kisses and rubbing their bellies. It was an absolutely magical experience!
Though the Beluga Interaction Tour is a tad bit expensive, it is certainly worth every penny. I cannot waitto return and be reunited with my new Beluga friends! Thanks so much for Ashley Nicholas for the review and pictures! 


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