One of the most important ways zoos, aquariums, and marine parks help protect our planet is by inspiring the next generation through education programs, camps, and school visits. Experiencing charismatic ambassadors is the best way to get students of all ages involved in conservation, engaging with and connecting to the world around them.
However, the logistics of this kind of personal connection can be difficult. For schools with low income, those far from a zoo or aquarium, or classes with strict curriculum, getting students to a zoo or aquarium can be a difficult, if not impossible feat. In addition, not all zoos offer off-site ambassador programs.
But now there is a way to bring one of the most charismatic animals in the world into the classroom, any classroom, anywhere. Shamu can come to you, using an innovative new program developed by SeaWorld Orlando’s animal training staff. All you need is 20 minutes, and an Internet connection.
The Shamu Connection is a Skype call, live from SeaWorld Orlando’s Shamu Stadium, that shows off the training and husbandry programs used to care for the ocean’s top predator every day. The program can be tailored to the subject matter and grade level of the class at hand, from kindergarten to college and everything in between.
What makes the Shamu Connection so effective, beyond seeing killer whales live in your classroom, is the passionate staff that brought it all together. Joe Sanchez, animal training supervisor at SeaWorld Orlando spearheaded the project and saw it through to the end, from the initial idea and trial phase, to presentation at the 2015 International Marine Animal Trainer’s conference, where the Shamu Connection brought home 2 first place awards, in Technology, and Education and Conservation.
“The main goal of the program is to connect with students all over the world, whether they can come to SeaWorld, or not,” Joe said. “We wanted to give them that opportunity to see killer whales up close, in person, in their classroom.” On some level, the Shamu Connection has already achieved that goal. During a 3 month trial period in early 2015, over 400 students in 15 different schools were able to experience behind the scenes at Shamu Stadium. Some of them had never seen a killer whale before.
This kind of project needs a huge team behind it. Animal training supervisor Kristen McMahon-van Oss, along with the entire Shamu training and education staff brought the Shamu Connection to life, all under the supervision of SeaWorld Orlando’s animal training curator Kelly Flaherty Clark. Kristen thinks the program is a perfect blend of innovation and SeaWorld’s values.
“The technology end is so important, so we can reach these students, but education and conservation is our main goal at SeaWorld,” Kristen shared at an interview at IMATA, “especially education about the care that we give the animals and how it’s so important for animals in the wild as well.”
The program is versatile and accessible. Any school with access to Skype can sign up. For more information, and to put a class on the list, visit here.
To see Joe and Kristen’s full presentation at IMATA 2015, courtesy of our friends at Awesome Ocean.
Photos: Erin McKinney.