Following last week's death of a trainer by a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando, I followed the news to see how SeaWorld San Diego would be impacted. (As the parent of a Shamu-obsessed toddler and an annual-pass holder, the news could change my weekend plans for months to come.)
Mid-week, the park announced that they had indefinitely postponed the "Believe" show, then later announced that the show would reopen on Saturday, February 27, but with a major change — the trainers would not be entering the water with the orcas.
So, on Sunday, February 28, the family and I headed to SeaWorld to see the 5:00 p.m. Believe show. The whole show seemed similar to a clumsy second date, though the whales executed their moves flawlessly.
As the show transitioned to what I call the "slow dance," in which a female trainer swims (or, rather, used to swim) with one of the whales while a soft, weirdly romantic eco-ballad plays, one of the smaller whales performed the dance solo while her trainer provided direction from the center stage At the conclusion of that set, the hug (which the trainers had always given on stage) was skipped. The trainer-to-whale contact had been chopped to a minimum.
Perhaps most sadly, even the penultimate act of the show — in which a child from the audience is interviewed about his or her "dream" and then introduced to Shamu — had seemingly been whittled down to a nearly meaningless interaction. The interview began as usual, but for the "introduction," the child was brought down to one of the enormous glass buttresses that form the front of the stage. From that over-safe position, she gave a few sample trainer moves through the glass for the animal to follow. When that segment was done, the girl curtsied to the audience after experiencing little more than anybody sitting in the front row could have experienced.
To the revised show's credit, the finale featured something that I'd never seen: four whales doing synchronized breaches, flips, and jumps.