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Entertainment replaces education at new SeaWorld shows?

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Published: May 19, 2006 at 12:50 PM

TPI reader Jason Moore is the first to post a review of the new "Believe" Shamu show at SeaWorld Orlando. He's also posted a comment on the Blue Horizons show that debuted last summer.

Jason writes:

In my opinion, the purpose of these shows has generally been to use entertainment as a vehicle for education. Yet both Blue Horizons and the new Shamu show Believe have removed all or most of the educational aspects which were added by the trainers talking segments. The shows seem now to be completely built for entertainment, and with the exception of the standard, expected high spots from the animals it is the the human "performers" who are given the spotlight. This shows a a lack of focus on the original mission of parks such as Sea World as far as I'm concerned.

Thoughtful point. Reactions?

Readers' Opinions

From Scott Seal on May 19, 2006 at 3:00 PM
As much as I'd like to agree in an ideal world...people go to theme parks to have fun, not to be hit over the head with books. I enjoy the educational stuff...but it's a theme park, not a university, and at the end of the day, you do whatever is going to make the most people the most happy.

It's the way of things.

From Bruce Lane on May 19, 2006 at 11:45 PM
Speaking as one who has worked in the oceanarium field, if only as a volunteer, I think you both make good points.

Jason, you make the accurate observation that Sea World has, in times past, injected at least SOME amount of educational material into their shows. I agree that this is a Good Thing, something that any park exhibiting wild animals should strive for. You may be forgetting, however, that most people are very willing to pay to be entertained, but most unwilling to pay for a scientific lecture (outside of college, of course).

Scott, you also make an accurate observation that people visit theme parks to be entertained, not lectured to. What you may be forgetting is that it is to the visitor's benefit, even if they don't know it, to gain an understanding and appreciation of the animals they're watching that goes beyond the simple 'wow' factor.

Why might that be? Let me explain.

Humans are a unique animal. We alone, of all the species sharing this world, have the power to directly affect our environment, and we have the free will to use it.

This power is far greater than I think most people realize. At the risk of sounding like a movie cliche, great power carries an equally great responsibility NOT to abuse it (and I fear we've not done very well in that department).

Think about it: We alone, of all the species our planet supports, have the ability to utterly destroy said planet and everything else on it. With that in mind, and assuming that most of us would prefer survival to destruction, don't you think it's in our own best interest, as a species, to understand how our actions may affect other critters and the rest of the planet?

Assuming the answer is yes, I'll tell you what I think Sea World is doing wrong, and has BEEN doing wrong for the past 20 or so years. They try their level best to 'sanitize' Nature, to wrap it all up in a nice pretty package the way THEY think it should be, and hard-sell it in the park's gift shops.

In doing so, they greatly devalue and distort what they present. They're so deathly afraid of offending ANYone that they will take political correctness to its extremes.

Some examples: Why are they still bothering to use the stage-name of "Shamu" for their whales when the original Shamu died in August of 1971?

Have you ever tried asking any of the training or animal care staff about that? How about asking them for the real names of the whales?

If you really want to see a tap-dance, try asking about sexual behavior among marine mammals, or perhaps animal lifespans. For some real fun, ask about intelligence or problem-solving abilities.

I would wager that if you asked the same question of five different staff in the park, you'd get five different answers -- and NONE of them would be wholly accurate. All because Sea World doesn't want to be caught giving an "offensive" answer, or any answers on an "offensive" subject.

Kind of sounds like our current presidential administration, doesn't it? Scary. Just scary...

So, Jason -- As I said before, I don't think you're seeing anything different from what Sea World has been trying to do all along: Marginalize their idea of "education" all safe in their "education" department, and turn the shows into something that could probably open in Vegas with moderate success.

Disappointing? Sure. Unexpected? Not at all.

Keep the peace(es).

From Karl McKenzie on May 20, 2006 at 11:13 AM
I had not been to Sea World Until this last week. I thought that the balance between education and entertainment was excellent. For those that wanted the education factor, staff seemed willing to answer questions and talk about whatever questions one might have-the entertainment was also there without the education being rammed down your throat. I feel that we can talk about a hypothetical perfect world but for me I wouldn't have ever seen or touched or for that matter learned what I did about the animals on display without going to seaworld. And I wouldn't have done that without it being packaged like it was.

I think the balance is very good at SeaWorld.

From Bruce Lane on May 20, 2006 at 8:34 PM
Hi, Karl,

I too would not know much of what I do now, nor care as much, had it not been for the influence of Sea World's interactive exhibits.

HOWEVER -- That does NOT mean I think there's no room for improvement, there or at any other park!

I do have a question: How many other oceanariums, zoos, or marine parks have you visited? I ask because I get the impression that your experience with such may be limited to Sea World.

The reason I feel as I do, that Sea World does NOT have (at this time) a good balance, is because of the fact that I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively. I've visited most of the oceanariums in the US, more zoos than I can remember at the moment, and several foreign (as in out of the US) facilities. I've also been fortunate enough to meet, and speak with at length, many marine mammal trainers and animal-care specialists, literally from all over the world.

All this has, as you might imagine, given me a very different perspective to look at Sea World through, in the form of comparing them and their staff to other parks and their staff.

I have one request, Karl. If you truly believe that Sea World's Education department has the right balance, as you've said, get hold of Susan Davis's book "Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience." Read it through, and then tell me if it changes your view at all. I'm curious.

Keep the peace(es).

From Jason Moore on May 22, 2006 at 6:09 AM
I think i should maybe clarify a few things. My assesment at the emphasis on entertainment over education was based entirely on the shows I was reviewing, not on the overall Sea World experience. Yes, you can still educate yourself if you seek out that information at the more interactive exhibits. If you go to the sting ray tank and talk to the employee working that area, you'll learn things.

The problem I had was with the newer shows. The trainers never spoke to us directly about the animals within the context of the script. Sure, most people know that "Shamu" is a killer whale, but how many average citizens know what the false killer whales in the dolphin show are without being told. had those whales not stopped the show by not performing correctly, the trainer never would have spoken to the audience and told them what species these creatures were.

I'm not looking to take a biology class while on vacation, but I should at least be able to walk away from Sea World knowing the species I've just seen entertaining me. That's the point I was trying to make in my reviews.

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