SeaWorld Orlando's killer whales are ready for their close-ups.
The theme park on Tuesday introduced an attraction that spotlights the relationship between the animals and their trainers. During the new "Shamu Up Close," guests stand about 6 feet from the edge of the pool as whales swim and leap.
The attraction is temporarily replacing "One Ocean," the park's main killer-whale show, while the whale stadium is undergoing maintenance. "Shamu Up Close" is presented in a pool area adjacent to the stadium.
Amanda McCrystal, who visited SeaWorld on Tuesday, said she liked the format, which is less staged than the scripted "One Ocean" show.
"I think it's more educational because they go into depth about how they train them," she said.
Poolside trainers give signals to the whales as another trainer explains procedures to spectators behind 4-foot-tall acrylic panels. Their presentations will occur sporadically throughout the day, but guests can watch the animals anytime, SeaWorld officials said.
The trainer sessions will vary, but Tuesday morning's emphasis was about positive reinforcement and teaching behaviors to Makaio, the park's youngest killer whale.
McCrystal and her husband, Denis, live in Orlando and visit SeaWorld weekly. At first, he was disappointed that "One Ocean" was taking a break during the maintenance.
"When they added this, it made up for it," he said.
Work has begun on the stadium, which will get a new paint job on the pool's floor and replacements for the acrylic panels that separate the water from the spectators. SeaWorld officials have said the fixes are routine and that none is related to the controversy stirred by last year's "Blackfish" documentary, which criticizes the park's care of whales.
"One Ocean" is scheduled to return to the lineup in April, after the stadium's renovations are complete.
Jennifer Mulrine of Newport News, Va., and her family investigated the animals at "Shamu Up Close."
"They were awesome. We got close-up pictures," said her 8-year-old son, Jaden.
"We found out why they were called killer whales … so it's been an educational experience as well," his mother said.
The reason, according to Jaden: "Because pirates saw them eat a lot of fish and seals and all that other kind of stuff that lives in the ocean, so they called them killer whales."
Guests can remain in the pool area, located on the north side of Shamu Stadium, between presentations. The underwater-viewing area remains open nearby. There is no charge for the encounter beyond regular SeaWorld admission charges.
"People can sit there and watch how we manage and how we work with our animals all day long," said Mike Boos, vice president of zoological operations.
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