During a spontaneous last-minute holiday to Nice, France, my boyfriend and I came across an advertisement of ‘Marine-land’, which pictured the image of a giant Orca. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamt about seeing real-life ‘Killer Whales’. From watching the movie Free Willy for the first time, I was sold: I considered these predators to be the most beautiful creatures on earth.
I did then, as I do now. And so it was that when we drove past the poster, I quickly turned to my boyfriend and squeaked: “Did you see that?!”.
We couldn’t believe that there might be actual orcas in water parks in Europe. I am extremely sea-sick, so if this turned out to be true, it would put an end to all the failed attempts of spotting them in America or Canada, during which I would just see the inside of a plastic bag…
Thus, when we got back to our holiday home, we checked it out immediately and indeed, orca-shows were held just 20 minutes away from our place! And even better, there was a deal on sale, 2 parks for the price of one: Marine-land and Aquasplash.
At the opening time of the park, we were excited and ready to go in. As a child I had obsessively researched all possible information about orcas, and continuously watched all kind of youtube-videos about them, also unfortunately the ones were they attacked seals, sharks and even trainers.
Despite the fact that they are killers, they have always fascinated me. Maybe even because they are killers. They are the most powerful of sea-animals, and even white sharks fear them. There is something about their size, strength, the way they move and the sounds they make that’s intriguing to me. Besides, they are among the most intelligent animals in the world and even have different languages among their pods, teamwork strategies to catch their prey, and they take care of the sick in their families.
We received a timetable with the different shows going on that day: the orca show came last, so we were kept in suspense a little longer.
First of all, we went to see the seals-show. I don’t find seals to be particularly beautiful animals, but they are funny to watch and seem to show a little bit of stupidity. The fact that they didn’t always listen to their trainers, made the show even better. For example, one of the younger seals didn’t understand that he had to give another seal a little kiss, and started waving to the audience instead!
Furthermore, they showed us some nice poses and dance moves, and even played with hula-hoops.
Next, we went to see the dolphin-show. Every show we visited, the pools kept getting bigger, and the performances even more impressive. The show started off with some hula-hoop dancers with coconut-bikinis, after which an acrobat performed some dangerous tricks on a robe above the water.
The dolphins, intelligent beings as they are, managed to show off even more tricks than the seals. They listened to their trainers well, and played interactively with the audience. With their tails they would shoot balloons into the audience and wait patiently until someone threw the balloon back into the water.
They also seemed to me a remarkable way of transport. With their snouts they would push their trainers through the water, which made them look like supermen. I could only think about what an amazing job it would be to swim and train these magnificent creatures. The way the trainers and dolphins interacted, the close bond and love between them, was touching to watch. I imagine that working, or even swimming or watching these animals works therapeutically.
After the dolphins, we went to see sea lions. We were apparently standing in the ‘splash-zone’, expecting perhaps a few drops of water. However, the male sea-lion was enormous, weighting over 300 kilos. After performing some ‘hand-stands’, he jumped off a massive rock right next to us, resulting in a tsunami. We were soaking wet. However, this was a nice relieve to the heat of the day. So we thanked the sea-lion, and moved on to the rest of the park.
We had a bit of time off before the start of the next show, so we walked around and came upon a ‘shark-tunnel’. This meant that you could walk underneath a pool of water and would see the fish, and sharks, swim around and above you. In the beginning, I felt a bit claustrophobic. ‘ What if the glass breaks?’ I asked myself. It was very crowded and we were packed together with many others in that small passage. However, from the moment I first saw a shark so close-up, swimming right above my head, I forgot that feeling and could just stop and state. So beautiful, so close.
After the shark-tunnel, we decided to go to the orca-arena early, so we could find the best spot and have some lunch. My heart was beating in my chest, and I honestly got tears in my eyes after finally seeing them for real. And not even one orca, which I anticipated, but six of them! Including a little one, of only 8 months old.
Even before the spectacle started, the orca’s started showing off their moves when they saw the audience walking in, thousands of people.
Before the start of the show, a big screen asked us quiz-questions about killer whales and showed us a short-movie. Orcas eat 60 to 80 kilos of fish a day, are pregnant for about 17 to 18 months, and the males grow to be about 8 to 10 meters and weigh 9 tons. The animals live in groups of 3 to 10, belonging to bigger pods of 30 to 40 orcas. They live in a matriarchal society, meaning that women are dominant (awesome!).
The show was amazing, exceeding all my expectations. The orca’s made incredible high jumps and turns, and even head banged to the song Happy. However, I couldn’t help but feel sad for them. They should be out in the ocean, not being held in captivity in tanks that to them is the size of a bathtub. As a treat, they would sometimes get snowballs, but this only showed to me how unnatural it was for them to be in 32-degree France. Some of the orcas also had collapsed dorsal fins, a condition that rarely occurs in the wild and shows their unhappiness. Orcas are highly social animals and in captivity they don’t get the adequate social interactions that they need.
However, I do realise the hypocrisy of it all, as I did pay a 40-euro ticket to see them myself. My heart wanted to see them; although my mind told me I shouldn’t support those parks. I am happy to see that capturing orcas in the wild has become illegal, and I hope soon displaying them in front of an audience will to. Though I can’t help to be a little happy that I still had a chance to meet them myself…
At the end of the show, people were asked to come forward to ‘get wet’. This was a change to see them from even closer, and I don’t think I completely comprehended what was going to happen, so I thought ‘why not’. My boyfriend and I went up to the tank and for literally minutes, the orcas splashed us with their fins. I was chilled to the bone, but I granted the orcas their little revenge.
Afterwards, we went to Aqua splash for a bit; a park with lots of water slides right next to Marine-land. We went into a couple of them, but then a thunderstorm began so the park closed. We decided to go back to Marine land, have some dinner and also watch the evening show of the orcas. This time, I didn’t take any pictures so I could completely enjoy the show and watch every move they made. Seeing them was truly breath-taking.
When we got home that evening, we were completely shattered by all the impressions, but it was a perfect last day of a perfect holiday. We had a small adventure were we forgot the keys and my boyfriend’s dad had to climb up to the roof of the house and sneak into it through a small window on top of the house! However, in the end we made it. I thought I would sleep like a baby, after finally having fulfilled a life’s wish. But in bed, a question kept me awake, can you exploit animals for the dream of a little girl? No.