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.

97 thoughts on “Giant Interaction at Sea World

  1. The intereactions between you and the Beluga whale are just endearing–I want to hug the photos! But my heart was stolen when I scrolled to the photos of your time with that most adorable and cuddly walrus! Wonderful sharing here today. Thank you.

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  2. I live in San Diego and have often taken preschool kids to Sea World. I have never had the inclination to jump in the water, though some of the kids would have loved to I’m sure. (By the way, thanks for “liking” my poem.)

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  3. You’re so lucky! What a wonderful experience! I grew up in San Diego and for years literally went to SeaWorld at least every other weekend if not every weekend. It has always captured my imagination and the animals were like friends who grew up with me. It’s been almost a decade since I moved away, yet I still know the layout of the park by heart. The Beluga Interaction price seemed steep when I was 8 or 9, but maybe next time I get a chance to go back to SD’s SW I’ll jump in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Thanks for sharing yours!

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  4. That would be awesome. I haven’t been so lucky as that but I was once the guy who got (had) to go up front and have Shamu soak them from head to toe with 50 degree salt water…

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  5. Is this exclusive? Do you have to have connection or something? Or is it by size of the group you go with? Price?

    This reminds me of your post before where you said you had to be early to interact with the sea creatures.

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  6. What an amazing experience! When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist and work at Sea World. That didn’t happen, but I did get to participate in the Shamu Show one year – I have a great picture of me standing in front of Shamu. What fun!

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  7. Absolutely amazing. I would love for my children to experience something like that. It’ll be a while before they are of an age to do so but it’s definitely something I would like them to do. Thanks for sharing your amazing experiences.

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  8. We did that last year… isn’t it FUN! One of our personal bucket list items scratched off the list (but secretly… I want to do that again!). Thank you for sharing your experience and bringing back some wonderful memories (I’d say warm memories… but that water was COLD!). 😉

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  9. Pingback: 5 Amazing Underwater Encounters | Bucket List Publications

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