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Project at Shamu Stadium - Killer Whales



01.26.2006 - I took these photos of killer whales at SeaWorld in Orlando. This was during a bat removal project. A colony of Brazilian Free-Tail bats was living in the jumbotron structure overlooking the main display tank at the Shamu Stadium. SeaWorld usually uses a specific company for their wildlife and bat removal needs, but this particular project was deemed too difficult for their regular bat removal company, so I was called in. The job was unique for a number of reasons. First of all, the tower was surrounded by ....water. Ladders don't hold as steady on water as they do on dry land, so that was a challenge. Second of all, the architecture of the tower was difficult - it was wide open in several areas. Third, the killer whales actually tried to kill me. More on that later. First, I shall explain these photos.

In the first photo, (upper left corner) we seen the view from atop the jumbotron tower. The Orca is kept in the back tank, separated from the stadium show tank, on the right, via a hatch. Perhaps it wanted to get through the door, perhaps it was bored, perhaps it was drunk and bumping into things.

In the second photo (upper right corner) it's feeding time. I don't know how much herring and sardine an Orca eats per day, but it's probably enough to feed your mom. Food serves as the primary motivational tool in whale training, but in this case, it was simply meal time. I wonder, when animals are kept in a pen like this, if they prefer getting their food tossed into their piglet mouths like this, or if they'd prefer to chase it down and kill it first. After all, I remember that Calvin and Hobbes strip in which we see Calvin tossing a piece of toast down the hall, and Hobbes goes chasing it down at top speed, and in the final panel we see Hobbes munching on the toast, jelly and crumbs splattered all over the walls, saying, "you're right, food DOES taste better this way". But then again, I as a homo sapien don't bother to go out and kill my own dinner. And I could. I'm a wildlife trapper. Instead, I line up like a piglet at the local Firehouse Subs counter (for those of you who are unfamiliar with this southern chain, they make slobber-inducing sandwiches), mouth open, teeth bared, waiting for someone else to toss food into my mouth.

In the lower left photo, we see the worst whale of the bunch. This one caused me quite a bit of trouble. I needed to remove bats from the jumbotron tower, and the jumbotron tower sat perched upon a concrete base. The concrete is smooth, so that whales can slide over it on their bellies if they so desire. I needed to put the base of my ladder on this concrete slab, so that I could reach certain parts of the tower. However, this one ornery pain in the ass whale kept sliding up on the concrete, right where I needed my ladder. Now, I've never fallen off of a ladder in all my years of doing this work. However, it's my guess that if a few tons of black-and-white blubber hit the bottom of the ladder with me on top, I'd be taking an unplanned bath in the tank (or unplanned trip to the emergency room, depending on what I hit below or who I got ate by below). So, we determined that I could not put my ladder there. The options: move the whales to another tank, or force me to do the work with no ladder. Well, disrupting the precious odontoceti was out of the question, so I was forced to clamber about on this jumbotron, 30 or whatever it was feet up in the air, no ladder, like a monkey, in order to get the bats out.

Once up and working on the thing, I was able to watch the whales (lower right) swim about at night. I felt at peace. All the killer had slipped away from the whales, as they slowly ambled around the tank in a monotonous and hypnotic pattern of swimming and breathing - the closest the animals come to sleep. I was glad to be there, and was sad that I had to leave. The bats were sad to leave their home as well, but at least none were killed. Though I'm sure the whales would've done so, given the chance. It's the thing that they do.

Kudos to SeaWorld Orlando and its commitment to wildlife of all kinds, from the small and airborne to the large and aquatic.

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