What will replace Clyde & Seamore sea lions show at SeaWorld Orlando?
On Sunday, SeaWorld Orlando's longest-running show, "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island," sailed off into the sunset. After 15 years, the theme park decided it's time for its beloved sea lions, walruses and otters to embark on a new adventure.
"It's bittersweet," said Todd Coffman, assistant curator of animal training. "I love this show, but I'm ready for the chance to do something new and different."
Coffman spoke with reporters and bloggers on Friday about the pirate-themed production's last performances and gave us a few hints about what we can look forward to when a new show debuts in 2015.
What can you tell us about the new show that is coming to Sea Lion & Otter Theater?
You can expect the same amount of humor and laughs that you get with this current show. At Sea Lion & Otter Theater, the thing that makes us great is that people get a chance to laugh. When they go to see Shamu, there is the wow factor. When they see "Blue Horizons," there is an emotional connection. At Sea Lions, it's all about laughter.
Are there other successful elements that will translate to the new show?
I think one of the things that makes "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island" so popular is that we have the ability to change our segments to keep it fresh. We can take a lot of things that are happening in the news and in the world and we can make jokes about those and put them into the show. So it's always fresh for the audience. That will happen in the new show, as well. We'll never get away from that. That's the staple of what the sea lions show does. What keeps people coming back is that this is a place for laughs. "¦. Even when the animals don't do exactly what they're supposed to do and we have to improv, we love that. We have fun with it, and of course, the audience has fun with it. So, all those elements together make this a winning recipe.
SeaWorld is known for its ability to entertain crowds who are waiting in its stadiums for its big shows to begin. Will the new sea lions show have a pre-show, similar to the mime at "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island"?
We're still working on the whole concept -- the scope, the characters -- so it's kind of too early to talk about that, but our plan is to make it every bit as enjoyable as our current show. We're not going to go backwards.
Will Sea Lion & Otter Theater remain open while the new show is being developed?
No. We're going to tear down this entire set, and we're going to rebuild it with a brand-new themed show. (The construction means that there will not be a Christmas sea lions show for the 2014 season.)
During that time, what will the sea lions be doing?
They still will be in their pools out back, participating in all their usual activities, plus training for the new show. It takes three to five years of training before a sea lion will perform in a show. We have gotten to the point where we train all sea lions to do all the behaviors. We have 12 sea lions in our collection and, discounting our pups who aren't quite there yet, we've got about eight sea lions who can do Clyde or Seamore.
How do you train the sea lions?
Having a relationship with the animals is vital to training. Not anyone can just go out and start teaching them to do tricks. We build the relationship through a number of ways, including sessions where we just hang out. A target ball, though, is used to teach almost all behaviors. And the sea lions are rewarded with fish, whisker scratches and rubdowns. Sea lions are not just food-motivated animals, they're also motivated by their own curiosity. They love to learn.
What is the most difficult behavior to train?
Some of the harder behaviors that we train are the ones when we have to train them to do nothing. They have to sit there and wait and watch. For me, my favorite is always the dinner segment, where the sea lions steal fish off the plate. It's a very behaviorally crisp segment. The animals are really responsive. If you watch them, they wait for very simple, subtle cues from us and the responses are quick and sharp. That's been one of the hardest things to maintain here. We have a large cast of trainers here -- 17 people -- and multiple people play the same role, so we have to make sure that everyone is doing it exactly the same way.
While Sea Lions & Otter Theater is closed, where can guests see the sea lions?
Pacific Point Preserve will remain open for feeding and viewing while the new sea lion show is being developed. Guests will continue to be able to see them, hear them bark and feed them. The up-close experience will change slightly, however. The separately priced hourlong tour will focus on an Asian small-clawed otter and trainer rather than the sea lions.