When SeaWorld San Antonio opened in 1988, my family got season passes right away. I remember my first Shamu show so clearly, I can tell you what seat I was sitting in. As I saw the killer whales up close for the first time, I knew, right at that very moment, what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could about the ocean, and when I grew up, I wanted to work with ocean animals.
Today, over twenty two years later, I have one of the best jobs in the world. I don't work with animals every day, I don't get to play with Shamu, and most of my work is behind the scenes, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. What I love about my work here is that I understand that things that start right here in the Education and Conservation Department have the power to reach thousands of families, campers, scouts, and students through our programs and presence at the animal habitats.
When I first started as a tour guide over eleven years ago, I was very excited about being around the animals. Over time, I started to realize that what made me look forward to being here was the chance to get others as excited about the animals as I was. It was always so rewarding to change people's perspectives about the animals from simply cute, or funny, or maybe even a little scary to helping them realize the bigger picture of how the animals fit into the ecosystems of the ocean.
Sharks were no longer fearsome and mysterious, but beautiful animals with an important role in making ocean populations healthier. The strength, intelligence, and agility of killer whales were not only for showcasing behaviors at a Shamu show, but vital adaptations that allow this species to be the top predators that they are.
Today, as a Manager in the Education and Conservation Department, a good portion of what I do involves animal information training with the staff. They come in; excited to be here and work around animals, just like I was all those years ago. They spend their first few days with me, and I feel that my job is not only to teach them about the animals, but how to engage guests and instill the same passion about wildlife that we share.
I really do believe that the core of SeaWorld's gift is that animal knowledge, and being able to confidently and effectively bridge the natural world to the minds and hearts of the guests we come into contact with every day, whether they are campers, school children, a family on a tour, or a group of guests having a conversation with an instructor in front of an exhibit. Many people come into the park already liking animals, but I hope that after spending time with one of us, they leave liking them a little bit more, perhaps caring enough to want to make the small changes that make a larger impact in conservation. Maybe they will be inspired to start recycling at home, or contribute to our conservation fund, plant a garden, or think twice before they throw trash on the ground.
We truly are ambassadors for these animals, and you never know when that "spark" might be lit in one of our guests that will lead to greater efforts for conservation in the future.