Shamu took a backseat to smooth gliding turtles at SeaWorld Friday night.
The exhibit opens Saturday (June 18) to the general public as San Diego’s theme park unveils a series of changes to combat a 9 percent drop in attendance.
The park plans to unveil a rollercoaster called “Manta” in 2012 and recently reopened the Dine with Shamu venue.
The park also has retooled the long time running Shamu show. The past show featured a storyline about children reaching for their dreams. The new show is called “Shamu Rocks” and has the whales moving and grooving to a variety of music, including a ripping guitar solo and Latin samba dancing.
On Friday night, Sea World gave annual passholders a special event preview. Thousands streamed through the new “Turtle Reef” to experience the exhibit.
Crews redesigned the old manatee aquarium near the shark exhibit with a 300,000 gallon aquarium, complete with a walkway that allows visitors to watch fish and turtles swim above them.
The aquarium has 60 hawksbill and green sea turtles surrounded by various tropical fish. Some of the turtles are more than 50 years olds; while others were born at SeaWorld.
“We are thrilled to feature these amazing creatures, some of which are endangered species,” said curator of fishes Thad Dirksen in a news release. “And our hatchlings are a testament to our stellar husbandry practices and ability to design habitats that allow animals to thrive.”
Turtles often mistake plastic bags in the ocean as jellyfish.
Friday evening, guests lined up beyond the entrance stretching 15 to 20 minutes outside the “Turtle Reef” entrance. Visitors enter the exhibit in a short hallway filled with projectors display images of the ocean and the ambience of soft ocean sounds. The exhibit is aimed at taking guests through the life journey of a turtle.
The jewel of the exhibit is the gigantic aquarium. Children pressed hands and noses against the glass to point at turtles and wave at them. Others sat down under the aquarium where the tanks curves over the pathway.
In a nearby section, guests played video games aimed at teaching visitors about where turtles live, how they nest and what threats they face. Another section of the exhibit features Turtlelink, which tracks sea turtles and rescue efforts.
Outside the exhibit is a new ride called Riptide Rescue. The ride puts passengers on boat replicas that rise in the air and spin.