In the past, I’ve written about my experiences as a marine mammal trainer at Sea World of San Diego before entering the world of insurance. So far, these articles have been very popular and I’ve received some very nice feedback.
So, over the next couple of months, I am going to describe the best beginning of any show in Sea World’s history from my perspective and then about the time everything went wrong with the sequence.
After our nation’s bicentennial when Shamu, the world famous killer whale performed in a show called “Yankee Doodle Whale”, I was fortunate to be one of four trainers that participated in the new show called “Shamu Goes to College”.
At the start of the show at one end of the giant show pool, “Mom Jones” (played by one Sea World’s wonderful Sea Maids) comes out of her little house, takes a letter out of the mailbox, and reads aloud that her son Davey has been accepted into Ocean University. Excitedly, she calls out “Davey, Davey Jones, where are you”? She then points to the other end of the pool and says “There he is”!
At that moment, Shamu (played by Kilroy, one of my favorite animals of all time) explodes to the surface with a trainer on his back, bursts forward with a powerful fast swim along the front of the pool that slices though the water leaving a huge wake, and deposits Davey on the doorstep of his mother.
I’ve been told that on numerous occasions, guests at the show would say things like “I’ve been here for 40 minutes so that guy must have been down there a long time” or “I wonder how that guy got down there without me seeing it”.
Let me give you the inside scoop of how it was done;
A few minutes before the start of the show, the trainer who would be playing “Dean Goodfellow” positions himself next to Mom Jones’ little house and takes control of Kilroy who was usually there waiting for him (Kilroy was extremely smart and very aware of what was going on around him). At a pre-determined point of Mom’s routine, the trainer sends Kilroy to the bottom of the pool to pick up the trainer playing Davey Jones who also happens to be the trainer in control of Kilroy for the rest of the show.
Let’s switch to Davey now (this is the good part). Again, a few minutes before the start of the show, the trainers playing Davey and “Joe College” walk behind the set and to the far side of the high jump tower out of sight of the audience.
If I am playing Davey for this show, I am wearing a shorty wet suit covered by a costume consisting of blue pants that fasten with Velcro, a blue and green striped shirt to look very “college like” and wet suit booties. I would fasten a small air bottle around my waste with the regulator (the part you breathe through) strapped to my left wrist. Since you had to take at least one breath of air from the bottle during the maneuver, you really hoped that there was actually air in the bottle and since I was the low man on the totem pole, it was my job to make sure we had filled bottles to use.
The high jump tower was hollow with an opening behind the ladder that we used to enter the pool. I would carefully squeeze behind the high jump ladder and work my way down into the water using U-shaped bars attached to the side wall until I was about waste deep. After dipping my scuba mask into the water, I put it on and got my harness ready (the harness consisted of two loops attached to each other by a rope that was about 2 to 3 feet long, one that Kilroy would swim through and one that I used to hang on to for stability).
Look for Part 2 of this story here or on Facebook next month!