New SeaWorld Shows Calm Terrified Parents

Jeanne Sager

SeaWorld San DiegoWhen SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca she was working with, I can't be the only parent whose first thoughts were "Oh my God, those poor kids who saw that go down" followed quickly by "No WAY is my kid going to go see that." Is it any wonder SeaWorld in San Diego just opened its first Shamu show in four decades without a trainer in the water? They want parents to be happy.

Trainers were pulled out of the water after Brancheau's death last year, but SeaWorld said it was "under investigation," ostensibly leaving open the possibility they would go back in at some point. But this all new show -- and the amount of money the organization sank into it -- makes it pretty clear that these new trainer-free shows may well be the wave of the future for families. OK, it's about the "trainers" and their safety, yeah, but it's REALLY about the families who are paying their way into SeaWorld for their family vacation this summer.

As parents, we have to strike a fine balance when we take our kids to zoos, aquariums, and the like. We don't like the thought of animals being kept in captivity. But there's education. There's fun. There's a lot to be learned about the fair and ethical treatment of animals inside the walls of these facilities.

I'll be 100 percent honest. I take my daughter to these types of places because she loves animals, and I think it's important to expose her to other species. But as parents, we're wary of "too much" reality, aren't we? We want animals in nice, clean pens to know they're well taken care of, but also so that our kids don't have to smell a giant pile of animal dung. We want them to take in a killer whale show to SEE killer whales, but not have to worry that the lean, mean killing machine might grab the ponytail of the trainer and well ... you know.

Credit to SeaWorld, the changes worked. Where I was terrified reading about Dawn Brancheau last year, I felt calmed this time around. OK, I thought, when I read about the new show in San Diego. We could do that. My kid would be fine.

We parents have power -- we have our pocketbooks. We can push for changes at these places. We can demand the animals are better cared for. We can demand the staff get better treatment. Not just because of how it affects our kids, but because who wants to take their kids somewhere where the bad stuff is hiding just UNDER the surface?

We voted with our pocketbooks on the SeaWorld issue, and it worked. The trainers are safer. I'm relieved to know SeaWorld in San Diego and SeaWorlds across the states have done something for their trainers. I'm just saddened to know that it took the death of Dawn Brancheau for it to happen.

Will you visit a SeaWorld with your kids this summer? Do you have these concerns about zoos and aquariums?


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