For Olivia's ninth birthday gift, we took her to Sea Life Park where she swam with a sea lion, watched a dolphin show, and cavorted with winged friends in the aviary. It was so much fun!
The sea lion tour started with a little briefing about the difference between sea lions and seals (sea lions can "walk" on their flippers, have ear flaps, and are noisy), where the park gets its sea lions from (California), and other fun facts about the life and care of these pinnipeds.
We were in the water learning about this, while the trainer brought out the sea lion and had it float past us so we could all see and touch the body parts she was teaching us about - big flippers, external ears, coarse fur mottled with algae.
Olivia was thrilled when it came past her. Part of being a mom is enjoying seeing your child's reaction, and sometimes I think I spend more time looking at her face than I do the actual event itself.
Sure, I love animals and I adore being near this creature, but it was so neat to see Olivia's wonder and joy at being so close to it. Maybe this is the kind of moment that inspires a lot of young visitors to become marine biologists or environmentalists.
After we captured our photos with the sea lion and concluded that very memorable swim, it was time for us to explore the rest of the park. We like all the exhibits and took in the famous Dolphin Cove show, which features Atlantic and Pacific Bottlenose dolphins and the hybrid, Kekaimalu, a Wholphin.
The Wholphin is the only one of its kind in human care, and as the name implies, it's half whale, half dolphin. False Killer Whale and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, to be specific. She was born at Sea Life Park on May 15, 1985.
Olivia saw an aviary that she wanted to check out, which opened in September 2013. If you enjoy birds, you will love this, as we did.
In the Manu Aviary, you can interact and feed about 400 lovebirds and cockatiels, which are all extremely friendly and very skilled at begging for bird seed. When you walk in, there are staffers who hand out bird seed lollipops, and instruct you to simply hold your hand out to get the birds to land on you.
Claus with birds eating his hat string.
They do poop at will, though for the half hour we all spent in there, we didn't get bombed. Surprise, huh?
"The aviary was created during a time when the park was looking to open value-added, interactive elements to the park that would allow guests to get closer to the animals. The original thought was to have lorikeets, which are popular at many mainland theme parks because they are colorful and drink nectar out of cups. But loris are on the Department of Agriculture restricted list because they are not indigenous to the islands. So instead of bringing in birds from the mainland, SLP decided to buy cockatiels and lovebirds from a retiring local bird breeder. So yes, while these aren't technically seabirds, they function as a way for guests to interact with birds and develop an appreciation for them, which enhances the Park's mission of education and conservation," explains Scott Kim, who works with the Park.
It's such a charming time. It was the surprise highlight of our park visit, actually. The little birdies are so cute and colorful.
Bird butt. One landed on my iPhone as I was going to take a photo!
Birds have been a part of Sea Life Park since its opening in the 1960s. The park today does not collect or train birds, but it will accept hurt or sick sea birds brought to the park.
It has a Seabird Rehabilitation Center where, each year, hundreds of seabirds are taken in and treated for injury, exhaustion, dehydration or illness - that includes broken wings, cat or dog wounds, fishing line entanglements, and fish hooks.
The goal is to heal and release the bird back into the wild. Sometimes, the birds who come are so young, the staff needs to teach them how to fly again!
Sea Life Park is the only place where someone may bring an injured seabird 24 hours a day, seven days a week - even in the middle of the night. That's quite a commitment to caring for our native Hawaiian species.
More at http://www.sealifeparkhawaii.com/.