SeaWorld Orlando invites visitors to learn about conservation at Wild Days events
Wild Days at SeaWorld Orlando kicked off this past weekend with two days dedicated to penguins, and I was invited to join the fun and informative experience.
Wild Days are three themed weekends designed to showcase the park's conservation efforts and inspire guests to get involved in protecting and preserving the Earth's wild animal population. Included with regular admission are interactive shows, the opportunity to meet leaders in the world of animal rescue and rehabilitation, and up-close encounters with animals.
During Penguin Lovers Weekend, SeaWorld Animal Ambassador Julia Scardina hosted several shows featuring penguins and other wildlife. Scardina has worked at SeaWorld for more than 30 years, beginning as a trainer with sea lions and otters. In her current role as an animal ambassador, she has traveled to all the continents, including Antarctica, which is home to the greatest number of penguins in the world.
"In the wild, it's a much harder life," Scardina said. "It's a very fine line between life and death for those animals, and I really saw that when I was out there."
"Penguins are having a hard time all over the world. Out of those 18 species that I talked about earlier, 13 of them are in decline," Scardina said. "And the declines are happening for a variety of reasons. They're happening because there are oil spills - and sometimes it's just oil contamination - like off the coast of South America with the Magellanic penguins. There is an estimated 40,000 that don't make it every year because they're covered in oil. There's also fishing that happens. If the fishermen are out there, they're competing with the penguins for food. If fishing is happening, the penguins have to go way farther to feed their chicks."
But that's where SeaWorld makes a difference, she explained.
"There are so many people who love animals. Almost everybody considers themselves an animal lover. But I really feel like there is so much more that animals need from us than just loving them. They need us to know about them. They need us to be experts about not only their species but also about the Earth and how we can live together on it. " And that's where I think that SeaWorld really has the ability because of the fact that we've got people who not only love animals but have an expertise in caring for them and in understanding the bigger picture so that we can not only care at the highest level for the animals that we have here but also help animals out in the wild."
Scardina didn't shy away from addressing SeaWord's critics, either.
"There are a lot of people who are very critical of SeaWorld right now -- and I'm sure they're animal lovers, as well -- but when it comes to a rescue that needs to happen, you don't pick up the phone and call an animal lover. You pick up the phone and call an expert that can go there and save that animal's life. And that's what we're able to do at SeaWorld."
You can hear more of what Scardina had to say - plus see the adorable penguins and even a baby bird -- during one of the shows in the video below.
Wild Days continue next weekend with Generation Nature Live, which features appearances by Bindi Irwin on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Irwin, daughter of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steven Irwin, is the SeaWorld Kids youth ambassador. The weekend focuses on how kids can get involved in conservation.
"Kids really are aware because they love animals and nature, but I think in some cases, they're not really getting their hands dirty and they don't quite know what to do with that passion," Scardina said. "Generation Nature gives ideas so kids can go out and physically make a difference."
In addition to the interactive shows with Irwin, the weekend includes a block party with a high-energy DJ at the SEA Garden, a whimsical storyteller, animal encounters, and special character appearances.
Guests also can dine on Jan. 31 at the Wild Days Picnic, which is an all-you-care-to-eat barbecue buffet with music and entertainment, such as animal interactions and character appearances. The menu includes chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, corn on the cob, homemade apple crisp, sweet tea and one drink coupon good for bottled Coca-Cola beverages or Dasani bottled water. Tickets are $19 per adult and $9 per child ages 3 to 9. Beer and wine will be available for an additional cost.
The final event in the Wild Days series - Jack Hanna Weekend - takes place Feb. 7 and 8. In addition to Hanna's shows that are open to all guests, visitors can choose a more intimate gathering with the TV personality and conservationist at a breakfast or a dinner. Both meals include a meet-and-greet with Hanna, a family photo and reserved seating for one of Hanna's shows. Breakfast costs $49 for adults and $39 for children ages 3 to 9. Dinner is $59 and $49, respectively.
SeaWorld's goal of increasing conservation efforts among everyday people may be a lofty one. However, it begins with education and awareness, which is what the theme park aims to impart with its annual Wild Days event.
"There are a lot of things that we can do to help animals survive," Scardina said. "Some of those things have to do with being aware that we have an impact on wildlife and it takes a bit of sacrifice on our part. " There are a billion people on the planet. If we each sacrificed a little more, we'd leave them a bit more. If we do pay attention, we can make that difference."
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the first day of Wild Days. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.