Jack Hanna Archives

January 27, 2015

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.


January 14, 2014

SeaWorld's Wild Days take visitors behind the scenes of animal care


SeaWorld Orlando has launched a new event this month called Wild Days that is aimed at spreading the company's message of conservation while giving visitors a look at what goes on behind the scenes when team members care for the animals.


At the first Wild Day, my daughter and I were invited to take a tour to see where many of the park's rescue and rehabilitation efforts take place. Located behind closed gates near the Key West dolphin area of the park is the hub of much of SeaWorld's animal-care efforts. Once inside, my daughter recognized the "Sea Rescue" team's truck and speedboat, which can be seen on the weekly television show. Interestingly, the propeller on the boat Dundee is located in the center of the craft to protect the manatees they are rescuing or releasing.

Turtle rehabilitation pools at SeaWorld Orlando

We arrived at the shallow turtle pools, where we were introduced to Little Hercules and Cobbler. These two sea turtles are blind and not able to be released into the wild, so SeaWorld has been charged with their care. While doing so, SeaWorld has been able to broaden its knowledge about turtles' eyesight, and the turtles have also served as blood donors for other turtles' surgeries, a staff educator told our group. Their neighbor, Pokey, is a rare Kemp's Ridley sea turtle who suffers from severe arthritis.

John Peterson stands in front of 2 manatee rehabilitation pools.

Next, we moved to the manatee pools -- two are located in the "backstage" area and one is actually in the tank visitors can peer into at the Turtle Trek attraction. John Peterson, supervisor of animal care and a SeaWorld employee for more than 20 years, talked about the rescue process.

"We're committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and return of our animals -- as quickly as we can," he said. Peterson, who can be seen on "Sea Rescue," explained that it is state and federal agencies, not rehabilitation facilities like SeaWorld, that determine if and when a rescued animal will be released.

"We will release wherever they tell us -- east coast, west coast, north, south, cold water, warm water," he said. "Some people wonder why you would release in cold water. We'll release [manatees] in the warm springs when the head count is high from all the manatees gathered there. Then, instead of being by themselves, they're with all these other animals and they will move back out and hopefully, if all works right like it normally does for us, we won't have to see them again."

When animals leave SeaWorld's care, they are tagged for identification and follow-up care as needed, Peterson said. That system -- plus a knowledgable ranger at Blue Springs -- enabled SeaWorld to learn about one of its very successful rescues. A baby manatee that was hand-fed and required round-the-clock care at SeaWorld was found to have assimilated to life in the wild and even produced an offspring.

SeaWorld guests can take the Behind-The-Scenes Tour and see these two areas, plus touch a shark, explore a hidden polar bear den and interact with a penguin. The normal price for the tour is $29 for adults and $9 for children ages 3 to 9, but during the month of January, it is offered as a buy-one, get-one-free experience.



As we were leaving the rehabilitation area of the park, we all had to laugh when a group of flamingos came strutting through the parking lot with two trainers in tow. The birds were on their way out for a stroll through the park. We followed the flamingos out into the park and made our way to the Dolphin Theater to see the "Blue Horizons" show. This is a must-do for our family when we visit SeaWorld.



If you arrive a few minutes before the show, you will get to see four pilot whales and their trainers work on some basic commands in the pool. Rescued from strandings, these four are the first pilot whales at the Orlando park, though San Diego does have some in its care.

"When we working with them in quarantine, we were still hoping they'd be released, so we weren't doing much training," a trainer told us. "We weren't even feeding [the pilot whales] above the water because, out in their natural environment, they'd need to eat below it. We weren't preparing them for a show."

Once the federal government determined they couldn't be released, SeaWorld trainers started positive reinforcement training with the pilot whales.

"They're very smart in their own way," she said. "They're not as quick as some of the dolphins. By their natural biology they don't move as quickly, so that sometimes takes us a little longer because they just can't move the way a dolphin moves. But they're picking up on the basics of what we do very quickly."

False killer whales were used in Blue Horizons until the last one died, and the trainer said they hope to use the pilot whales in the show, like they do in San Diego. Trainer talks, such as this one, are open to the public and part of guests' regular admission during Wild Days.

Later in the day, my family learned about California Sea Lions before the "Clyde & Seamore Take Pirate Island" show. We watched as a trainer asked Zoe to open her mouth wide to participate in her own healthcare. And we heard about Big John and Little Chris, who came to SeaWorld from Oregon when the federal government determined it would have to euthanize 90 sea lions a year from a river near the Bonneville Dam.



One of the most famous animal trainers was the keynote speaker during the first Wild Days weekend, Jack Hanna. "Jungle Jack," who entertained audiences with his stories and displays of rare animals, did not shy away from talking about the reality of being an animal trainer -- that sometimes things go wrong and the trainers can be injured or die. The result, he said, is that SeaWorld has taken an unfair beating on its reputation.

"I'll never forget the first time I came here with my girls, who were only 5 and 7 at that time. I got to see the most magnificent thing I'd ever seen in the world and that was the killer whales and the other animals that were here, the dolphins. I'll never forget that, just like the 350 to 400 million other people who visit SeaWorld parks," Hanna said.

"Dawn [Brancheau] who lost her life here was a friend of mine. I did the memorial service here at SeaWorld. Her family, her parents, are here today. " They came today to visit SeaWorld because they love SeaWorld. Dawn loved Seaworld. Dawn's life was SeaWorld. The whales were her life," he said as the audience applauded in memory of Brancheau's devotion to the animals with which she worked at SeaWorld.

SeaWorld's Wild Days continue on Jan. 18-19 and Jan. 25-26. Next weekend features the stars of "Sea Rescue," who will talk about the stories that have been featured on the show, including those of turtles, manatees, flamingos, pilot whales and dolphins. Plus, the rescue team will answer questions from guests. The last weekend focuses on penguins with talks from SeaWorld Animal Ambassador Julie Scardina and penguin activities for the whole family in the Antarctica section of the park. Check the daily times guide for Wild Days events.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld during its Wild Days event. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my story.


August 29, 2013

Wildlife expert Jack Hanna returns to SeaWorld Orlando in September


Animal expert and television personality Jack Hanna is returning to SeaWorld Orlando for a weekend of special appearances and shows.

Hanna is the host of "Into The Wild," during which he and his family take viewers on animal adventures around the world, paying special attention to endangered species. Hanna was the longtime director of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo, but he got his start at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford from 1973 to 1975.

Known as "Jungle Jack," Hanna brings his exotic animals to four shows that are included in regular admission to SeaWorld. Hanna's past "co-stars" have included clouded leopards, chatty kookaburra birds, penguins, otters and majestic eagles. Show times are at 1:15 and 3:15 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15 in the Nautilus Theater, an indoor venue. Seating is first-come, first-served.


Guests can guarantee themselves seating in a reserved section by booking breakfast or dinner with the famed host. The breakfast takes place at Sharks Underwater Grill at 9 a.m. and includes a meet-and-greet with Hanna, a complimentary 6 x 8 family photo, and reserved seats for the 1:15 p.m. show.

The menu features scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, French toast sticks, seasonal fresh fruit, cereal, breakfast pastries, juice, milk, coffee and hot tea. Guest also can choose crepes filled with farm-fresh scrambled eggs, spinach and mushrooms; pastries and muffins; and seasonal fresh fruit. Mimosas are available for purchase for guests 21 and older. Tickets are $49 for adults and $39 for children ages 3 to 9.

New this year is dinner with Hanna at Dine with Shamu, where he will entertain guests with animal stories and will answer questions. Diners also will receive a complimentary 6 x 8 family photo and have reserved seats for the 3:15 p.m. show. Dine with Shamu is at 5 p.m. each day and costs $59 for adults, which includes one alcoholic beverage for those 21 and older, and $49 for children.

The adult buffet features seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, certified sustainable seafood, slow roasted and smoked chicken, yellow rice with Creole shrimp, herb-crusted strip loin of beef, seasonal accompaniments, fresh breads and desserts. Kid favorites that are offered are spaghetti with marinara sauce, chicken nuggets with dipping sauce, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

For more about what to expect at Dine with Shamu, please read my previous blog post.

SeaWorld also hosts Sleepovers with Jack Hanna at its San Antonio park. There, participants have the similar opportunities to interact with Hanna, with the added bonus of spending the night near some of the theme park's animals. (SeaWorld Orlando also offers sleepovers, but not during Jack Hanna Weekend.)

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About Jack Hanna

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Jack Hanna category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Generation Nature is the previous category.

Just For Kids is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.