I love SeaWorld Orlando. Despite what the Blackfish crowd would have you believe, the animals are well taken care and trained strictly through positive reinforcement. Although the orca show, One Ocean, is my favorite, I’ll admit to a fondness for the sea lions, too.
The sea lion show, “Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island,” ends its run this weekend after 15 years, and I had the amazing opportunity to bid it farewell by meeting several of the animal stars and even getting to play trainer with one of the sea lions (although the person getting trained was really me). I joined Clyde the sea lion’s trainer and participated in a bit that they normally do in the show, then got to shake his flipper. Being that close to a sea lion and getting to do a training interaction was a huge highlight for me.
Here’s a bit of trivia: even though I met “Clyde,” there are multiple sea lions who perform in the show, and they all know how to do both the Clyde and Seamore roles. Pretty smart critters!
You can see my whole experience in the video below:
As I mentioned, the animals are trained with positive reinforcement. They’re never starved or forced to perform, so how exactly do the SeaWorld trainers get them to do all the amazing behaviors you see in a typical show?
The answer is pretty simple, although it requires a lot of patience. They gain the animals’ trust and teach them to touch a target pole. That simple initial behavior is then used to teach them where to go and what to do for more complex routines.
Food is just one reward for doing a behavior correctly, as many of the animals prefer things like ice, rubdowns or other forms of attention since they’re already well fed. Each of the animals has its own personality, likes, and dislikes, so the rewards are individualized.
If you’d like a more in-depth explanation and demonstration, check out the video below. It has a sea lion training demonstration with the target pole, and you also see how trainers use relationships to strengthen their bond with the animals. You’ll also hear an interesting question and answer session:
The sea lions are the obvious stars of the Clyde and Seamore show, but it features other animals, too. The video below shows one of the very talented walruses showing off a wide range of behaviors. She’s 2200 pounds, so there’s no way you can force her into doing anything. Like the other SeaWorld animals, she was trained through patience and rewards. If you wonder how the animals are punished, it’s in the same manner as a parent giving a child a time out. Bad behaviors are ignored and good behaviors are reinforced. Naturally, the animals want the reward, so they stop doing things that don’t earn any attention and repeat the behaviors that gain attention. Here’s the walrus video:
There’s a third type of critter that stars in Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island, and it has the market cornered on cuteness. In the video below, you’ll meet Opie the Otter. This furry little show stealer actually steals the show quite literally, nabbing the pirate treasure map. Unlike sea lions and walruses, otters have very short attention spans, so Opie’s role is short and centered around natural, high energy otter behaviors.
You don’t have to worry that the critters’ performances will be gone for good after the current show closes this Sunday. There’s an all-new show in the works that will debut in 2015.
Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.