ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters Life!) - A year after a SeaWorld trainer was grabbed and drowned by a killer whale in front of tourists, park officials unveiled a new show designed around trainers staying out of the water tank.
The new show, called "One Ocean," which was announced in Orlando on Thursday, will feature whales playing in giant fountains instead of with people. It will debut in late April at SeaWorld Orlando and in late May at SeaWorld San Diego and in June at SeaWorld San Antonio.
Since the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, in Orlando last February, SeaWorld has banned trainers from entering the tank with whales. That was a major adjustment to the still-running show known as "Believe," which was designed around the trainers' relationship with the whales and initially featured trainers cuddling and nuzzling with the whales, riding and performing acrobatics, and being launched into the air by a flip of the whales' snouts.
Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, is in rehearsals to join the new show, said Julie Scardina, curator for animal training for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
SeaWorld is working to find a safe way to allow trainers to re-enter the water with whales, Scardina said.
"It's certainly a dimension we'd like to get back at some point," Scardina told Reuters.
Meanwhile, she said, SeaWorld is interacting with the whales with hoses, brushes and toys to keep them stimulated and is making sure they have adequate whale companionship.
Trainers "feel as much of withdrawal as anything," Scardina said.
Though trainers will remain on dry ground, the new show increases audience participation, allowing more guests to interact with the whales through a glassed segment of the tank, Scardina said. Other parts of the show highlight whales' relationships with each other, and between mother and baby whales, she said.
The show will dazzle with colored lights, panoramic LED screens displaying video of sea life, and surround sound, all with an underlying thrust of educating guests about environmental conservation, Scardina said.
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune