In a recent discussion, topics came up regarding ecocriticism and our society's understanding of nature, the environment, etc. We deeply discussed the effects that children's stories and experiences have on our youth's perception of nature and animals, and how past experiences have affected our own perception. Today, a specific place came up in conversation: Sea World. What child doesn't love Sea World? It's a place where families go on vacation trips to watch magical whales and dolphins. It's a place we go to view and connect with nature.
In fact, at one point, this was Sea World's main sell in their advertisements: "Touch the magic" was the tagline of a large advertising campaign. "Make contact." In the eyes of the public, Sea World is a place to connect with nature. Sea World's image is that of a place where we can view animals living in their natural habitats. But as is stated in an essay by Susan G. Davis, "Sea World's nature is not only highly artificial but also standardized." Sea World's image and our perception of its purpose are largely untrue. Much like a museum, somebody arbitrarily chooses what will go on display and in what type of setting, for how long, etc. SeaWorld is also funded by large corporate sponsors. There are numerous commercial draws to the theme park other than the "nature" including concerts, arcades and roller coasters. Even if the nature aspect of SeaWorld were spot on, it'd be hard to believe that the park was doing its job of "connecting humans with nature" due to all of the distractions that bring in more paying customers.
Perhaps we aren't connecting to nature at all, but rather we're enchanted by the spectacles surrounding the animal exhibits. I don't believe that SeaWorld or any other "natural" theme park is truly teaching any child or adult about nature or animals' natural environments; it's all planned (rather poorly) and made popular by the extravagant activities surrounding the exhibits and the magical looking advertisements. There may be certain efforts by Busch Entertainment and Anheuser-Busch to bring education on marine life and nature to classrooms, but in my opinion, even this seems promotional.