We've certainly not had a shortage of visits to marine parks and aquariums in our time, but Zoomarine did look promising – the dolphin show in particular was supposed to be excellent. And besides, I was itching for a location where I could properly use my zoom lens.
We were picked up just after half past nine by one of the many courtesy buses laid on as part of the ticket price, through the main gates by 10am and by 10:45 were sat down in the amphitheatre seating overlooking the birds of prey show (the first of four large group shows that were scheduled). We'd seen a similar show in Sydney (in Taronga Zoo), so I knew that at some point the birds would swoop right over the audience and so I tried to locate the various perches that the birds would use.
We were sat right next to one, which could come in handy for an extreme close-up somewhere along the line. From out of what can best be described as a tree-house (well, it's the best I can describe, but I'm sure there's a proper term for it) a variety of birds took their turns to fly out to the trainer, including hawks, an owl, a vulture and an eagle. After the show, the trainers let people pose with the various birds while the resident clown (whose purpose was to keep the crowds entertained while waiting for shows to begin) posed with a rubber chicken and a supply of frankfurters in a tin strapped to his belt. The kids seemed to love this clown, and a few adults too!
The next show was the highlight of the day – the dolphin show. No matter how many times I see these kinds of shows, it never ceases to amaze me how the dolphins can do the tricks that they do, all seemingly from recognition of a hand signal by a human being (something that doesn't seem to be an entirely natural phenomenon). There was the usual standard stuff of dolphins jumping through hoops, gliding backwards out of the water and propelling their trainers along the surface, but I'll confess I've never seen a man or woman surf on the top of a dolphin before, nor have I seen dolphins dancing in pairs as if waltzing across a dance floor. Words alone don’t do it justice and a freeze-framed photo can only go some way towards it.
One thing that they do at Zoomarine that was very tempting was dolphin interaction – for €140 anyone could spend time with the dolphins and interact in similar ways. Well, perhaps not the surfing part of it, but they do let punters ride between two dolphins by hanging on to a dorsal fin with each hand. It looked like an excellent experience, especially having witnessed what these dolphins could do, but I thought it was a bit pricy all things considered. But if you have spare money and want to do something a bit different, it's got to be worth a try.
The first show of the afternoon was for the tropical birds. It looked promising (we'd seen video clips) but despite some of the acrobatics and showboating from the colourful macaws, it was a very childish show. So childish, in fact, that a whole class of school kids left the show before it finished. They tried a bit too hard to create a pantomime style show and embedded social responsibility messages in there that grated a little. Still, the macaws gave me some more photo opportunities, so we just put up with it.
The final show was the seal and sea lion show (I can never remember which is which). Like the previous offering, they tried to make a bit of a panto out of it, with some daft storyline that involved an intrepid traveller encountering the seals. Some of the tricks were quite funny, but what was even funnier was what they didn't do, or rather what the seals didn't do. The woman kept on having fits of giggles and at first I couldn't tell why, but soon realised that both the man and woman on stage were laughing because the seal was not doing what it should. The watching crowd also cottoned on to what was happening, effectively waiting for the seal to foul up again (including the numerous attempts at getting the seal to 'play dead' after supposedly being shot by the man).
Aside from the scheduled shows, there is another attraction at the park that you can view (almost) any time during the day – the 4D cinema. It's one of those shows where you have to don a set of glasses that make you look like Brains from Thunderbirds but let you see the film in 3D; the 4th dimension comes in the shape of an occasional blast of wind or spray of water synced with the happenings on screen. The animation was fun and well put together and, perhaps not surprisingly, it had an environmental slant (showing animals having fun in their habitats before the trees are chopped down or the coral reef is destroyed by drag-net fishing). The environmental message was much more slick than that presented at the tropical birds show earlier.