Thursday, April 10, 2008

Saved by Belugas

Last night was a bad one for the Lag Liv household (er, small apartment-hold). Landon was up for almost every single minute of it. Things started out well; he went down easily at 7:15. JP came home unusually early, and we classed it up a little with the previously mentioned meal of bread, cheese, meat, a delicious Argentinean Malbec, and sparkling conversation. I watched the new episode of Top Chef, realized my lack of fresh produce, ate my orange, and got ready for bed. Right as I was about to hit the pillow, Landon let out a wail. I soothed him and he went back to sleep, only to wake up 5 minutes later with another wail. This continued until we brought him in our bed around 2, knowing it wouldn't work, but desperate for some sleep. And sure enough, it was party time. Landon squealed, smiled, and squirmed until we decided he was obviously fine and put him back in his crib. The wailing continued, stopped only by our hand on his back, until 4ish, when we both lost consciousness. I woke up again at 6:30 to his crying, and desperately hoped he hadn't been crying that entire time. JP gave him his breakfast and took him to Maya's. I just spoke with her and he's doing fine. Obviously, the only people he's trying to kill are his parents. I stayed in bed to get a whole 3 hours of sleep, missing both my classes, and woke up at 11 to yucky weather and a feeling of general frumpiness. But then I checked my email to find pictures from my Trainer for a Day experience at the Shedd Aquarium!! Belugas will put a smile on anyone's face, even someone who only got 3 hours of sleep at the hands of a possessed teething baby.

I mean seriously, how cute is that?! She is totally smiling at me (yes, that's my hand). Her skin was rubbery and surprisingly soft. Dolphins seem so taut and muscular, but belugas are squishy and very huggable.

My half-hearted attempts at anonymity preclude me from showing you the glories of my Trainer for a Day uniform. The pants were insane. They were jodhpur-like, with hips that jutted out from my hip-less body. When I was in the penguin habit, two penguins waddled over to check me out, and I thought to myself: I could totally fit both of them in my pants, one in each of the massive fabric bubbles on my hips. Landon would love them. But then I decided I could never keep my apartment as freezing cold as that habitat, so I decided I'd dress Landon up as a penguin next Halloween instead. We'll keep a sea life theme going as long as possible.

My session started at 1:15 on Saturday, the 5th, and JP and Landon came along for the fun. The head trainer gave them a schedule of every habitat I'd be in, so they followed along throughout the afternoon, waving to me from the other side of the glass. Landon wasn't all that impressed with me, but he was delighted with the dolphin show and the penguins.

I started out meeting the belugas and their trainers. It's amazing how much behind the scenes work goes on there: the constant fish prep (I helped), clean up (using a giant hose to clean up a kitchen is so much easier than the damp sponge I use in mine), the running from habitat to habitat for shows, training sessions, and feedings- those trainers are busy! I learned a lot about the animals and their training. We learned about using the whistle and it seemed so effective I wondered if I should try that with Landon... I also learned that the animals in the Oceanarium alone eat 650 pounds of restaurant quality fish a day, all lovingly prepared by trainers and volunteers.

That is one of six juicy fish I fed my beluga.

I met the dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, birds of prey, penguins, and of course, the belugas. The penguins were hilarious. I never noticed before, but they bow to each other whenever they cross paths. The two that I contemplated smuggling home in my pants kept alternating bows the whole time they were in front of me. They're such civil little creatures. Mating season is about to begin, so they were already staking out nesting spots. Apparently one spot is the most awesome one of all and there was a penguin in it at all times. Most hilarious was the line of three other penguins behind it, waiting patiently for a chance to take it for themselves. The trainer said that when mating season is upon them, they get feistier and actually wing-slap for nesting spots. That image cracks me up. Maybe I should have taken one home - I think Lilly the cat could use a few wing-slaps.

For the animals health and safety, the program doesn't involve much direct interaction. I got to see all the behind-the-scenes operations, enter all the habitats, and meet all the trainers, but it wasn't to the final beluga session that I got to touch one.

Here, I'm scratching her tongue, which she loved. She kept sticking it out further for me. I wanted to take her home too, but my pants weren't quite that big. Her trainer taught me a few hand signals and here I'm asking her to spin around:

So cute! The belugas were my favorite group of animals - they had so much personality and are a very friendly bunch. They don't like to be separated and when they were supposed to be "at station" in front of their respective trainer, they kept breaking away to swim around in a circle to check on everyone.

I went through a week-long phase of wanting to be a marine biologist when I was little. Maybe I should reconsider that, it sure seems like a lot more fun than due diligence and contract review. In any event, it was an awesome and creative birthday gift from JP, and the pictures kept my bad mood at bay this morning. Yay for belugas!


  1. yess! i was waiting for a blog on the beluga experience!

  2. Oh, I'm so jealous you got to be a trainer for a day! What a great program!

    On a more personal note, perhaps there was something in the stars last night. For lo: I could not fall asleep and then when I did, I got a measly 1 1/2 hours before "someone" woke up at 3:30 am, deciding it was party time, excellent!

    He never did go back to sleep although I passed out sometime around 5:30, only to be dragged out of bed at 7 to go to work.

    I am functioning (!) today on 3 hours of sleep, non-consecutive. It's not pretty.

  3. How fun. I am glad you got to do that. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night either. My husband drove home for the night to see us and he is sick. His snoring kept me up half the night. Then his alarm went off at 4:45.

  4. Sounds like a most excellent reminded me of the time I went to summer camp at Sea World and got to see the behind the scenes. I'm really glad you got to go...I bet the pictures are awesome!

  5. that is so awesome! I always wanted to do the Trainer for a Day thing. Amazing!

    everytime I see a beluga whale, I have to sing the baby beluga song :)

  6. Haha, I kept humming it while I was there! Landon and I listened to it all week in the car to prepare for the big day :) At think at this age, I get way more out of Raffi than he does.

  7. Aww . . . maybe the aquarium neeeds a lawyer?

    I LOVE aquariums in general. I remember when I was a kid my parents took me to Orlando and I was SO much more impressed by Sea World than by Disney or Epcot!

    Also, I'm sorry Landon is back to sleeplessness. Maybe he's an insomniac?!

  8. The whistle thing didn't work out so well for the Von Trapp kids in Sound of Music... I'd encourage you to reconsider :)

  9. Haha, I was thinking the same thing about the Von Trapps and whistles. Now I have an image of Von Trapp children catching fish.

    So pretty, I want to pet the sweet little beluga too! What a great experience... Glad you had a good time!

  10. That looks like sooo much fun! I, too, was waiting for this post :)

    Hope you get some sleep tonight...

  11. wow, how neat!!! that beluga looks so sweet! I would LOVE to do that!

  12. What a neat opportunity!! I bet you had a bast. :)