Over Veteran’s Day weekend, one of Jacksonville University’s conservation groups, the ECO-SOS club, went to Seaworld in Orlando for a day long field trip.
The famous, world-class marine animal park was a good match for the ECO-SOS club. The park’s commitment to conservation of marine wildlife and the ECO-SOS’s predominant popularity with marine science majors made the park a perfect fit for the club’s field trip. The club, headed by JU student Janelle Larson, has made many previous trips over the years to the Jacksonville Zoo, beach clean-ups and the Right Whale Festival. It is open to all majors and students, causing it to become one of JU’s more popular campus organizations.
The group had a very early start. The van was originally supposed to leave at 7:30 a.m., but did not leave until 8:30 leaving many members shuffling around campus during morning hours not familiar to most college students.
Summer Gagel, a freshman and marine science major, was able to describe the group’s trip to Sea World and the events of the day.
“The whole trip was a lot of fun, but we had a rough start,” she said. “Our bus was over an hour late, and getting everyone together early in the morning was more trouble than it should have been.”
Seaworld has been trying to rebrand itself as a more adventure and thrill oriented park over the years with rides such as the roller coasters Kraken and Manta. However, it is still mostly known for its nature shows featuring its animal inhabitants such as the world famous Shamu, the park’s mascot. The ECO-SOS club came primarily for the animal exhibits and shows.
“We fed animals most of the day,” Gagel said. “We got to see dolphins, sea lions and mantas.”
The park features many open-air venues where guests can buy food for the animals. Majority of the funds will be applied to the park’s conservation efforts.
The animals at the park are mostly performers, well-trained and usually bred in captivity, but Seaworld runs an extensive conservation program that rehabilitates animals and then releases them back into the wild once they have recovered.
When not feeding animals at the exhibits, the club took in some of the shows the park had to offer such as “Blue Horizons,” a theatrical show that introduces marine animals. The day culminated in the evening viewing of “One Ocean,” the show starring Shamu in his titular arena, exhibit and living area, Shamu Stadium.
“After that, it was a hassle getting everyone back together. The officers told us we had to get back together one last time even though most of us were going home separate ways,” Gagel said.
After the show, the group dispersed; some returned to Jacksonville, others, mostly Orlando native sons and daughters, stayed behind to spend the long weekend at home.
Overall, despite the difficulties in getting to Orlando and staying together in the park, the ECO-SOS club had a whale of a time at Seaworld over the holiday weekend.