Giant Interaction at Sea World

Beluga whales are the gentle giants of the sea and at SeaWorld San Diego, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to interact with these beautiful creatures. Between 12 and 14 feet long and weighing about 2000 pounds, belugas are roughly twice the size of bottlenose dolphins. These attentive animals played and interacted with their surroundings and us, seeming almost more timid than I felt. SeaWorld is one of only six facilities in the world to host beluga whales, and through the Beluga Interaction Program, I got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get in the water with these playful creatures. It’s one thing to see them twirling about behind a giant plexiglas tank, but it was a whole other world to have all 2,000 pounds wading in front of me, begging me to reach out and play.

After checking in at the Beluga Interaction Program desk, we made our way to the Wild Arctic exhibit. There, we were greeted by a member of SeaWorld staff who took us behind the scenes of the Wild Arctic for our first encounter – a walrus. We were given the chance to feed, touch and interact with a large, male walrus before meeting Arctic foxes and a polar bear. This behind-the-scenes introduction was a welcomed addition to the program. I had no idea that I was going to touch and feed the ever-feared walrus, but I cautiously, and literally, jumped at the opportunity, which you can see in the photos.

After our behind-the-scenes introduction, we were escorted to our private locker rooms, shown to our custom-fit wetsuits (the staff asked for our weight, height and shoe size when we booked the tour to ensure a snug fit) and booties and given the time to prepare for our next adventure. As the crowd formed at the beluga whale tank, Darren and I, along with five other guests, made our way through a tunnel into what looked like a frozen ice land. We were taken by our handler to the edge of the water tank holding the belugas and we prepared to get in!

At the instruction of the handler, we stood on a man-made shelf submerged under water that left us waist deep in the chilly arctic habitat simulated water. The water was about 55 degrees, but between my custom-fit wetsuit and the rush from getting in the water with whales, the chilly temp was barely an after-thought.

It was a little unnerving standing next to such large mammals, but they were so docile and playful, I quickly learned to relax and enjoy the unique experience. These beluga whales were like little children. They loved to play, they loved attention, and they loved to be pet and rubbed. The frigid waters washed away my worries and left me with a serene feeling.

The belugas spun in place, floated on their backs to be pet and rubbed on the belly and vice versa, gave kisses on the cheek, waved, and made a variety of noises, depending on the hand signal.

A staff photographer snapped off evidence of our interaction along the way and regardless of the price, we knew we needed to have the life-lasting memories in photo form. After all, how many opportunities would I get to have a picture of a beluga whale kissing my cheek?

Once the encounter was over and we exited the exhibit, we were brought back to the building containing the locker rooms where we freshened up for the rest of our stay at SeaWorld. By the time we arrived back at the Beluga Interaction Program front desk, our CD full of pictures was ready to be purchased. $89 is a steep price to pay for a CD with 85 photos, but it was well worth the expense.

With only eight slots per beluga session, it was an intimate experience that I will not soon forget, especially now that I have the photos to continue the memory of a lifetime.  Few places in the world offer such an up-close, unique interaction with these animals.

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97 thoughts on “Giant Interaction at Sea World

  1. I distinctly remember refusing to visit sea world when I was a kid because I felt that something the size of an orca belonged exclusively in the ocean. Maybe watching Free Willy three times at the movies had something to do with it lol. My visiting elephants at the zoo made me somewhat of a hypocrite though 🙂 Looks like you had fun with those beautiful belugas, you’re so lucky to have had this opportunity!

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    • What SeaWorld does for the animals there is nothing short of a miracle. I think if you look into the SeaWorld environment, you’ll see how truly special it is and just how much they do for the mammals. 🙂

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      • Yes, you are absolutely right, I’m very aware of their efforts and how they have improved the quality of marine life tremendously. Another great example is dolphin quest at the Hilton Waikoloa in Hawaii. I should have taken the time to acknowledge that in my comment, your post just brought me back to my 10 y/o mind set and how funny it seems now. 😉

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  2. We were just at the Atlanta aquarium… It’s ok but nothing like the memory I have of sea world. Atlanta seemed all show and sea world being mostly outside just had such a different feel. Granted they still have their ‘acts’ but totally different feeling. What an experience and memory to have interacted with such gentle giants… It’s no jumping out of a plane and maybe I’m over dramatizing but I imagine it having a life long impact. I’d like to do that someday.

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  3. I didn’t know whales come in white too, and I’m jealous of the the encounter!! They’re pretty rare huh, the experience must have been great. My only fear is that they may dislike me haha, flip me with their tail or something. You got some good nerves 😀

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  4. We recently visited the aquarium in Atlanta, where you can also have an up-close visit with the belugas. Because they’re inside I doubt the experience is quite the same, I don’t know. But they are certainly beautiful creatures. One of the whales is pregnant and due to deliver any time now. Yours looks like a wonderful adventure with the addition of other animals and a walrus. He is darn cute!

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  5. Once again, you’ve inspired me Lesley! Thank you and please keep going! ( :
    My daughter Annie and I are adding the dolphin swim to our bucket lists, since she has wanted to swim with dolphins for about five years. Happy day!

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    • I’d love to swim with whale sharks too! (That’s not at SeaWorld though).

      I hope you get to experience swimming with dolphins. I did it in Mexico a couple of years ago and it was amazing. I did the foot push with them and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I’m sure your daughter, and you, would love it.

      Did you swim with any other mammals?

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  6. This looks so fun! I’ve been to Sea World several times, but have never ventured to have an up close encounter with them! Maybe it’s something I’ll have to try! 🙂

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    • They also offer a dolphin interaction program. Although I have been in the water with dolphins before, I’d like to go back and experience it with my husband.

      Would you prefer to swim with the dolphins or the whales?

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  7. Lesley that looks like so much fun. Loved the photos and the interaction. If I ever make it to CA will have to visit Sea World. Looks so incredible and since I love Dolphins will have to see them also. Thanks for sharing your adventure there.

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  8. I’ll never forget seeing the Belugas at Sea World as a child and falling in love with them. All of the animals there are incredible, but there’s something magical about those giant white mammals. What an experience!

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  9. What an amazing experience! Large marine mammals are in a league of their own. I had the opportunity to go along with a friend as she had the opportunity to swim with whale sharks, as well as other marine life, at the Georgia Aquarium. I’m sure you’d love it!

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  10. wow, this is so cool! and i love your idea for a blog! who doesn’t have a bucket list? you’ve inspired me to perhaps write about accomplishing some of the things on my list 🙂

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  11. Oh Lesley! Thanks for stopping by Kids and Keys! It’s been a while since I peeked in on your blog and I am so in need of a vacation! Your blog is my quick vacation fix. Love the pics!

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  12. Thanks for sharing your very special experience with us. While I agree with one of your earlier comments up above, such wonderful creatures belong in the oceans not in an aquarium, I also know how much conservation and educational work goes on in places like Seaworld. It is to be hoped that one day horrid creatures like humans who hunt whales will have become extinct and creatures like the gentle Beluga can roam free once more.

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  13. What I wouldn’t give to step out of my life/mind for a moment and step into the water with the whales. The only place I seem to find peace lately is inches below the surface of the water. How cool…

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  14. Although my wife is not to enchanted with the idea, I guess because of my age (69), one of my goals is to go to Rwanda and sit in the middle of a family of highland gorillas…not lowland, but highland gorillas. I can hardly wait and hope I can make it happen. Glad for you on your Beluga whale experience! I’m not a fan of penning up any animal in a zoo, an aquariums, etc, but if that’s what it takes to maintain things like SeaWorld’s animal rescue program and other animal rescue efforts, then bring it on…

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  15. This is awesome and looks like so much fun! I use to always want to be a Marine Biologist when I was younger so I am a bit jealous seeing the pictures and reading the story ;] thank you for sharing!

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