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Sports and Outdoor

Making furry friends

Educate, entertain and excite at Atlantis, The Palm, with a trip to the all-new Sea Lion Point. A sloppy kiss from Sanga promises to be an experience to remember

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Educate, entertain and excite at Atlantis, The Palm, with a trip to the all-new Sea Lion Point. A sloppy kiss from Sanga promises to be an experience to remember.

Never work with children and animals.

Unless of course you’re introducing little people to South African Fur Seals for the first time.

“A kiss and a cuddle with one of the world’s most charming mammals is a recipe for producing the biggest smiles in the world,” said Heidi PerezCao, Vice President of Dolphin Bay and Sea Lion Point at Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm.

The newest attraction to open, Sea Lion Point allows guests the opportunity to meet and interact with South African Fur Seals in an unparalleled encounter.

Sea Lion Point gives guests an unforgettable opportunity to learn about the newest members of the Atlantis family, as well as touch, interact and even kiss one of the remarkable ocean inhabitants.

PerezCao says the interaction is a perfect way to help children understand and appreciate a bit more about the environment they live in and the extent of living things they share the world with.

“The aim is to allow guests to meet and greet the animal up close and learn and appreciate them more,” she said. “I believe exposing children to animals instills a passion and love for them which in turn develops people who are deeply committed to the care of the environment in general. Love, tolerance and respect come from knowledge and the children of today are the decision makers of tomorrow.”

The Sea Lion Point experience starts with a friendly chat with a marine wildlife specialist covering noise levels, being calm and hygiene. Hands are thoroughly washed and soles of flip flops/shoes are rinsed before entering the home of the mammals.

Lined up and fully clothed – guests do not have to be swimmers or even water fans for this one – Sanga comes bounding out from behind a big door.

Experts wait for the initial excitement to die down before a very cute Sanga shows us his moves. Dancing, handstands, disco spins – he’s got it all.

The South African Fur Seals at Atlantis, a species found along the coast of southern Africa, were born under human care in a zoological facility in France befiore heading to the Emirates Park Zoo in Abu Dhabi.

Around 35 different species are referred to as either fur seals or sea lions. They are scientifically classified in the sub-order Pinniped but are anatomically different from the species referred to as seals. Sea Lions have external ear flaps and their flippers are much longer which assist with movement on land.

“We teach a variety of behaviors including giving kisses, receiving hugs, being touched and positioning themselves appropriately,” said PerezCao. In addition we teach balancing, vocalising, moving various body parts and moving facial muscles as well as helping them to co-operate while we administer their own medical care. Sanga will allow us to perform various health checks on her, even allowing us to take a blood sample as part of our preventive medical program.”

The marine mammal specialists at Atlantis have worked tirelessly to establish strong, positive relationships with the new fur seals, reshaping the majority of their behaviours and making them desensitised around people.

The experience lasts around 15 minutes in total so don’t expect to become best friends with Sanga, however, after she’s planted a cold one on the cheek of your little ones you’ll feel like you’ve known her for years.

Children (above six only) are asked to sit calmly on a giant rock and Sanga approaches. One minute you’re sitting staring at the palm trees and the next you’ve got whiskers brushing up against your face and a wet mouth pressed against you. It’s a bit of a shock at first but does somehow manage to give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Huge smiles, fits of giggles and an immediate discussion about swapping seal saliva follows the experience.

Sanga is very well-trained and parents have nothing to worry about when it comes to health and safety.

“We use a variety of hand gestures, vocal cues, tactile signals and other sounds to communicate with the seals,” explained PerezCao. “Whistles lets the animal know the exact moment they have demonstrated the desired behaviour, as well as a variety of rewards including fish, ice, touch and toys.”

Marine mammal specialists carry a whistle or ‘bridge’ and when blown informs the seal it has done the correct behaviour and should return to the trainer for a reward.

“We call it a ‘bridge’ because it bridges the gap in time between the Fur Seal doing the behaviour and returning to the trainer for a reward,” added PerezCao.

“Passion, confidence, love, acceptance, discipline and humility are some of the most beneficial lessons I personally have learned from the animal kingdom in the years I have been working with them,” she said. “Adults and children interacting with marine mammals has an emotional impact many of us will find difficult to forget.”

Sea Lion Photo Fun is priced at Dhs425 for day visitors and Dhs275 for in-house guests, which also includes all-day access to Aquaventure Waterpark, 25 percent off same day admission to the Lost Chambers Aquarium and a souvenir photo of the kiss. A maximum of 10 guests can take part and children between 6 and 12 years of age must be accompanied by a paying adult (18 years and above). Sessions take place 11.15am and 3.15pm daily and should be booked in advance. Call 04 426 1030, email DolphinBay@atlantisthepalm.com or visit www.atlantisthepalm.com.

By Time Out Dubai Kids staff
Time Out Dubai,

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