If you love both wildlife and the ocean, the California coastline—and especially San Diego—is hard to beat. For starters, you can take whale-watching tours from downtown, peek at sea lions in La Jolla, and see marine wildlife up close at SeaWorld San Diego.
One person who knows that ocean population well is Jody Westberg, the Stranded Animal Coordinator at the theme park. In a recent episode of the California Now Podcast, she discussed her day-to-day life rescuing and rehabilitating local wildlife—from marine birds to dolphins and even whales—who are typically found on beaches, sick, or in distress. She offered some tips on how to boost your own appreciation of marine life.
Go to La Jolla to See the Local Sea Lions
Head to the La Jolla Cove area known as The Children’s Pool, Westberg suggests. “You are going to see hundreds of California sea lions” splashing in the water and sunning themselves on rocks. Some of them are even SeaWorld’s former patients. “You're going to see some of them that have orange tags on their flippers,” she says. “Those orange tags mean that this animal has been rescued, been rehabilitated, and returned back to the wild.”
Start Your Morning at SeaWorld’s Underwater Viewing Area
Right inside the entrance, you’ll see amazing touch pools where you can get up close to horseshoe crabs and even little sharks. But, Westberg says, everybody tends to stop there first, so resist that temptation and come back a little later. Instead, “take a left and head to the underwater viewing. In the morning, it's very serene. You can see more than 3,000 sardines and our killer whales. And when you look at an animal in the eye, right up next to that glass when it's very quiet and no one else is around, it's going to have a huge impact on you.”
Don’t Miss the Penguins
Sure, everyone thinks they’re cute, but spending a few extra minutes in SeaWorld’s Penguin Encounter, watching them interact, is something else. “They are curious and funny,” Westberg says, adding that the staffers think of them as an ongoing soap opera of personalities. “There are very few of us in our lifetime [who] make a trip to Antarctica and see penguins,” she says. “So to be able to not only see them but hear them is one of my favorite things to do in the park.”
Book an Encounter
The park offers a variety of behind-the-scenes encounters with wildlife—from otters to beluga whales and even flamingoes and sloths. You’ll get to meet with the critters and caretakers, either in the animal’s habitat or behind the scenes where the caretakers work. “I really love that one-on-one interaction where you can ask any question you've ever wanted to know just about that specific flamingo … or what is it like to take care of these sea otters. [They] really are like two-year-old construction workers…because they can destroy anything.”
The effect, though, is more than just entertainment, she says. “To be up close to a beluga and a walrus, two animals that are severely impacted by the changing climate, and hear firsthand about the conservation efforts, you're going to leave with a different appreciation for saving wildlife than you had before.”