Thank u thank u thank u.. and my bday present to myself lol
Yes I know I haven't posted in ages. But there are two good reasons to post today. First of all, thank you for all the birthday wishes (and any to come still since here in the US it is not YET my bday). As friends might have noticed, I am breaking a long 7 year tradition this time and not throwing some big birthday party. Just kinda lazy to do it anymore as I get older... not even sure I'll do much at all since have other close friends bdays right before and after my own which is in the middle of the week. So a lot of celebrating and bday wishing to do already!
Reason # 2 to post... I guess you can say I gave myself one amazing bday present this past weekend. Pics are yet to come so hopefully I can post some later. But I really wanted to write this down so I can remember every little detail. I can link to some other relevant pictures first.
This weekend, I participated in Trainer for a Day at Discovery Kingdom (once better known as Marine World) with my friend .
We got up at 6:30am (after getting just a few hours of sleep) to rush an hour to Vallejo for this program where a trainer takes you around for a day. Needless to say, it was probably one of the most educational and enjoyable experiences I've ever had.
Our trainer, Courtney, was extremely nice and informative. I'm so glad we had her as our trainer for the program.
OK here's one of my infamous long posts as I retrace the tiring but well worthwhile day.
8:30am we arrived at our lockers and changed into the Trainer for a Day t-shirt and borrowed a sweatshirt from Courtney to get all fishy.
First, we went to visit some Sea Lions and Harbor Seals. Throughout our day we would meet the primary trainers for different areas and they were all so warm and delightfully kind to us. It was such a jam packed day I wish I could remember everyone's names (including each animal's names) but despite trying very hard, my mind became a jumble of confusion at times. Upon entering the habitat, we were first met by 2 river otters. Now, I doubt any of you have seen river otters up close. They are like ferrets and not too similar to the Monterey sea otters. And they are absolutely ADORABLE!!!! Knowing they were about to be fed with chunks of fresh fish (mmm sashimi), they started calling out like little kids. They were LOUD and cute.
Next, we went in to the Sea Lion/Seal enclosure with buckets 'o fish and started feeding them.. a bunch of them. They were so cute. I'm gonna use cute a gazillion times in this entry. There was this old one that barely moved and was lazy, so I'd throw fish one or two at a time to her and she'd slowly chomp them up. Other ones were swimming around and we'd throw handfuls of fish and they'd leap and dive for them. One particular big one would sit right in front of us with his mouth wide open LOL asking for more fish. After a good while of feeding em, we left the enclosure. Next we watched the river otters feed, munching away adorably.
After that, we went to the back sea lion/seal enclosures...fenced areas where some other creatures lived. We went to the "kitchen" area where all the fish and meals are prepared. It's a hectic crazy area with bulletin boards listing what each animal weighed, how much to feed at what time, etcetc..all color coded and such. We helped weigh out some buckets of feed for the sea lions for later in the day. I myself weighed out lotsa slimey fish for Kai. We walked by all the pens and saw all these silly creatures (yes sea lions and seals can look quite silly haha). Tried to take in most of the names.. Buckwheat, Peabody, Doc, etc.. they would all be somewhat relevant later on. As a light rain started falling (overcast day), we got to... CLEAN the pen for another river otter! This one was an old twenty something year old yoda like little otter. The trainer lead the otter out (well more like the otter followed the trainer out.. making slow wiggly cute steps).. and we took a hose and hosed down the very stinky pooped-on floor and rinsed off toys and such.. refilling the kiddy pool inside. I rearranged the toys for the otter. When the trainer walked back w/the otter following, he kept not wanting to go into his pen and wanted to walk towards us. It was funny! The trainer kept asking, where are you going? And the otter would look back and take one step towards his pen, then turn confusedly, squint at us, and take a step towards us haha. Finally he went into his pen. We also got to scrub and wash buckets lol. Yay. Haha. All part of being a trainer, a very tough job that pays really little (we learned it only pays like $10.50 an hour .. you get there super early.. lots of competition w/other trainers.. lots of hard work.. but if you're passionate about the animals, that's what makes it worth it).
Then we got to go on stage to meet DOC!!!! Doc's this gigantic sea lion with bulging eyes (the more excited they are the more bulgy their eyes get). He's huge!! We started doing tricks with Doc... we learned that trainers use certain signals to train the animals, and when they do well, the trainer says "Okay" or blows a whistle. .and possibly feeds the animal some yummy fish.. this is called the "bridge". Doc was great. I had to do a trick with him where I was glad not much people were around lol. I got to do the "moan" trick where I had to say MOANNN in a very moany voice and then Doc started making this funny moany noise with me too lol. So cute. We got to hug him and take pictures. The thing about Doc is when he was rescued he almost drowned and had to be resuscitated, so when he tries to concentrate, he actually has a tremor.. so when taking pics.. I guess he really concentrates for his beauty shots so he was tremoring like mad while I held my hands on his back and front.. so cute. =P
But the cute is far from over. Things were only getting even CUTER. The trainers brought out little ELLA NEXT!! She stole my heart!!!!!!! She's this small several months old sea lion. Only came about knee high at most. And omg omg omg omg omg omg omg omg. =P She waddled out and came up to us and started sniffing our legs. Putting her nose right up on us. Like a cute little puppy. She also turned towards the photographer multiple times and kept doing this honking baby yell at him.. kinda like.. who are you? What are you doing here? Then turned back to us and kept circling and sniffing us. And at one point she hugged someone's leg ..reared up and put her flippers around the leg. SOOOO absolutely cuteeeeeeee. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. Sigh.
After that, we went to visit the Walruses! "Can I Haz a Bucket?" Haha. There were 3 big walruses at the walrus encounter. We went to the back prep area as usual and the 2 trainers there started educamating us. In the meantime, the walruses came over and stuck their heads through the openings i the enclosure and gave us weird faces... watching us. Walruses are really gigantic..2000-4000 lbs each. They look very durr. And very very very cute. One of them kept smacking his lips at us.. making this funny noise.. the wholeeeeee time the trainer was talking. The other just gave us the lazy eye and then suddenly flipped over and took his back flippers and started scratching his tummy.. he had the funniest look.. his tongue was lolling out, his eyes were half closed, but still looking at us. He seemed to be enjoying his tummy scratch. We participated in "enrichment" for them, where we stuffed these plastic balls with small holes in them with tons of clam meat and slimey fish. Then the balls were thrown out to them and they started eating all the food from the balls in the water.. then they would actually retrieve the empty balls and return them to the trainers!
Hmm I feel like I'm forgetting some stuff in between. Err. Really jam packed day. What am I forgetting? Argh. Somewhere along the way we stopped for a brief 15-20 min to eat some lunch. Then our wonderful trainer arranged for us to go up to Shouka stadium to see Shouka, the killer whale! This wasn't really part of our program but she was nice and called ahead and arranged it for us. So off to the back we went where we met several of Shouka's trainers. And Shouka was there in the water with her best friend, Merlin the dolphin. It's the cutest thing. A killer whale and a dolphin so close and such great friends they never leave each other's sides! Now if you've ever seen a killer whale up close.. like really up close.. or well even from far away still.. my goodness they are such beautiful big creatures..........
Shouka and Merlin would come up and put their heads above the water. The trainers started doing training sessions with them. They were trying to teach Shouka to do this back flip tail fluke hitting of a ball that hangs from a wire above the pool.. the ball could be lowered to different heights for the training. If she were successfuly, they would "jackpot" bridge her with fish. If not, she had to try again although she can't be pushed too far and keep failing or she would be frustrated and everyone would be taking a step back rather than improving. Training takes a lot of patience. It was sooo cool. The trainer would do the hand signals and Shouka was blow some air and water outta her blowhole in preparation, turn her great big body, look foward with determination, bob underwater and start swimming furiously around the pool and come up to the ball.. the first attempt was quite successfuly.. she broke the water turned around and BAM hit the ball with sooo much power with her fluke. So loud. So beautiful. Upon being jackpotted for her success, the trainer raised the ball a bit because it sure looked like she could already hit it even higher. But subsequent attempts failed and you could see Shouka getting very frustrated, as eventually she'd turn around rather than go right back to the trainer and try other ways to hit the ball. Poor Shouka! So cool though, I really wanna go back and see how she progresses on the trick.. see if it is performed at a show and then I can say HEY I was there when she was first learning the trick! Goooo Shouka! In the meantime, Merlin was also practicing various cool tricks hee.
Since it's October, the park was doing all these Halloween themed things. One of the cool things that the animals do is they paint!!!! So they wanted to train Merlin and Shouka to paint pumpkins. They are all trained to paint canvas already. To do this, the trainer took a nice big pumpkin and put it at her feet as she interacted with either of them. The pumpkin was being "introduced" as something safe to be around. It didn't bother either of them at all! Eventually they put the paintbrush in their mouths and held the pumpkin up, and Shouka or Merlin would move the paintbrush back and forth and "paint" the pumpkin (just practice so no water soluble paint added on yet). We thoroughly enjoyed our close encounter with Shouka and Merlin. If only I coulda done a Free Willy thing and gone swimming with Shouka!!! I always thought killer whales were amazing. Of course there were always precautions to take, even for trainers, to give space to animals, because they are after all animals. Even the dolphins sometimes have moody days as seen later when some like Bella were ignoring us lol. They are just like people! All have such particular personalities. But yes, Shouka was beautiful.
After that, it was time for our close encounter with dolphins. We suited up in wetsuits and off we went to the pool. Only thing I hadn't realized was it was a pool where anyone at the park could view us lol. So far we had been behind the scenes or at the stage pools when no one else was there. Very intimate. There were other groups of people doing the dolphin encounter so we all had our areas in the pool. In we went. Cold still despite the wetsuits haha. And lotsa people around watching us. Now I hadn't really swam much since I was little, though you never forget how to swim, but I was somewhat slow going into the deep sections of the pool and a bit awkward out there, but oh well. OK so.. swimming and chillin with dolphins.. is... cool to say the least.
For a good while, we were out there with several dolphins.. Jasmine, Terry, Bella, Sadie... Bella was the one who was a lil more stand offish for the day.. having an off day. We did a buncha awesome tricks w/the dolphins... even kissing them. At one point they were joking around with us.. when one trick was supposed to be performed, the dolphin decided to keep splashing the person in the face instead of following directions, and we broke out laughing lol. It was hilarious. Kept splashing too haha. We also got to touch the dolphins tongue and teeth.. do all sorts of stuff.. touch their flippers, flukes, everything. Playing with dolphins yayyy awesome.
After a good while out there, we returned to the back. While the people who only did the short dolphin encounter changed and showered, we got to have more fun w/the dolphins in the back pools. Well first we ran hot water down our wet suits to warm up. .felt soo good!!!! We took a tube and turned on the hot water faucet and just hosed the inside of our suits. Ahhhhhhhhhh. Almost better than a hot tub!!!!! Then we started playing with more dolphins. We fed them fish and jello. We did tricks. We petted them. And the best thing was.. Mavrick was back there! Mavrick is a baby dolphin, born by Merlin and Chelsea. He's only like..less than a year old? 7 months old I think? So he's small (though not tiny) and absolutely adorable. Cute. Ahh. We had so much fun with them and took more pix. The really awesome thing about dolphins is how much they love interacting with humans... how much they want our attention. If we aren't paying attention to them or our trainer is talking to us, they'll do anything to get our attention! They bob up and down in the water..rising up really high if we are standing farther away. They beach their heads up and try to nudge us. And you know how dolphins always look so happy and smiley.. sooo loveable. And the noises they make are amazing. They have a wide range of vocal talent...you really wonder what they are saying to us and each other. The trainers are able to make them click, giggle, shriek, you name it. Our trainer trained one to do this funny sound that sounded like scratching on turn tables. She called it the "remix" and to do it she rubs the dolphin's head.. almost like really scratching a turntable. I love the sounds they make! And it's just amazing how they communicate so much. We were told a story about Shouka the killer whale communicating with the dolphins too. They seriously talk to each other. At some point Merlin was getting bullied or something by other dolphins and Shouka and Merlin was talking to each other and making sure Merlin was OK and helping him out. O_O
I can't really summarize all the things we experienced back there but.. wow. Mavrick was the best hehe.
After that, we changed and showered and off we went back out to the pool in front. With us were canvases and paints. After we got out there, we played and took pix from the side with Terry and the rest of the outer pool dolphins. And then Terry came over to paint for us! We chose 3 colors of paints each and put them on brushes, and gave the brushes to Terry with these soft handles so it's comfortable for him.. and then he started painting our canvases back and forth! Usually it costs $ to have animals do paintings, then more money to buy the paintings, but for us, it was included in the program. It's so cool to own a painting by a dolphin, though mine wasn't as artistic and beautiful as another that was done. I should have moved my canvas around more haha. They are after all dolphins and not picassos. Some come out so amazingly artistic though. Mine looks like some weird creature lol. Cool still.
We went to the back again after that and the program was mostly over, but we ended up watching another training session that just began and helped feed and pet and take more pix with the dolphins yet again. I couldn't believe the trainer program was almost over. It was only 3:30pm but we had been running around with the animals and learning the life of a trainer since 8:30am. We were EXHAUSTED but didn't want it to end. The dolphins were still bobbing up and down trying to keep our attention. We walked by one pool and I'm not sure which new "friend" of ours it was, but the dolphin was floating there with his head towards us and two toys around his fins.. rings kinda like hula hoops.. one on each front flipper and grinning at us as if he wanted us to play with him so bad. Awwww.
There are so many other details not mentioned. It was one of the best experiences ever. After that we were free to walk around the park until closing which was 8:30pm or so. Our trainer told us we should catch all the animal performance shows. We definitely wanted to see our friends in them! Despite being tired, we stayed, plus getting to stay in the park after was great, especially with the special parking we had right out front and ins and outs. We caught the dolphin show, sea lion show, and shouka show at the end. Each time the show ended we had extra time to walk around. The park was relatively empty (still a buncha ppl but not crowded) so rides had no lines or anything and it was nice w/all the Halloween decorations and stuff going on.
As for the shows, they were 10x more enjoyable after knowing the animals. Everytime an animal came out, it was like.. hey it's ..oh yea. hey I fed him..hey..etc. And it was a totally different perspective seeing them perform their best tricks (the intimate experience wasn't about seeing them doing amazing tricks, it was about training and interacting with them). They did things we did not expect them to do. Kai was the star of his show! Shouka was soo cool. Flipping her giant body high up in the air. Merlin, Sonny, you name it.. they all kicked ass. Doc was awesome too! I love those animals! And I actually miss them sooooooooooo much. I hope to see Ella again someday. Definitely need to go back and visit. I doubt our trainer has the authority to let us in the back again but we did ask for her email address and stuff and she said to let her know when we're back. I can't imagine never seeing some of these animals up close again. They definitely stole my heart. I'll never forget them. Maybe I was supposed to be a trainer in another life. Haha. Not sure I have the patience though. It's a tough life. Some of the same trainers were acting in the shows at 8pm still.. and they probably got to the park at like 5/6am to start a long busy day off. Courtney herself has 2 jobs to support herself since training doesn't pay much. I don't imagine these folks have much other time to do anything, much less raise a family or anything. But they are passionate about what they do. They love the animals. I see how rewarding that really is. How fulfilling it can be. How frustrating at times. But once you're with your friends... how the frustration can melt away.
Thank you, Courtney and all the other trainers. Thank you, Shouka, Merlin, Terry, Ella, Doc, Kai, Peabody, Mattie, all the Walruses, sea lions, seals, dolphins, otters, omg I can't remember all the names.. all of you... You all rocked my world for a day. Hope to see you all again someday!
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