My Sea Life Park Experience

My Sea Life Park Experience

I just want to share my experience:

Two days ago I went to Sea Life Park with my mom and kids. Growing up in Kailua and having a fun mom, we used to go there all the time. I remember how much fun and magical it was. The first initial fish tank was huge and full of a rainbow of sea creatures. The show with the pirates always pulled me into the story and the rescue mission. The multitude of sea lions barking for fish always frightened me and the touch pool was one of the first places I ever held a sea cucumber. If we were good we would sometimes get dippin dots before calling it a day and heading home.

Those are the things I remember as a child and I’m sure the children today see things through similar eyes, but going there as an adult was different. I almost wished I had a child's eyes so that I could ignore some of the things that were around me: The empty tanks. The de-barbed fishes and stingray. The green growing on the tanks, turtles, and sea lions like they were artifacts not animals. The fact that if you just looked up past the walls of glass you could see the vastness of the ocean to which they all belonged. Surely this park is not the true home for these magnificent creatures...

But that’s not even what I wanted to talk about right now - it only heightened my prying eyes and piqued my curiosity as to what else felt off about this place. It was in that state of mind that we watched the dolphin show. The dolphins were great. I was even impressed and entertained with how beautiful and strong they were as they did their tricks and routine. It was the speech that really had me squirming in my chair and cringing at almost every word.

First of all there was this jingle for the show, “alooooohaaaaaaaaa, nai aaaaaaaaaa….” that repeated over and over. Then there was this story about how the naia would play with children on the beach and their coconut. Then there was the random use of Hawaiian words throughout the speech, majority of which were being mispronounced by the guide with the mic. Then to end it all they threw out there the line we’ve all heard a million times: “Aloha, doesn’t just mean hello and goodbye, but it also means love…” Aloha actually means a lot of things and is really cut short when we only list the three. A more appropriate explanation would be something like, “Aloha in Hawaiian means a lot of things. It means love, compassion, sympathy, kindness, and more, which is why Hawaiians used it as one way to greet someone and also to part ways.

Hearing that line in the show is really where I cracked inside and thought to myself as all the tourists cheered and repeated the prompts of the guide, “What are we doing here?” And I didn’t just mean at the park or just me, but all Hawaiians and Hawaii. What are we doing here? Is this what we have to show for this beautiful land that we live in? Do we even know the misinformation that we’ve been fed as children?! Are we feeding it to our children? Do we know who we are?

This is not Hawaii. It’s wrong to show Hawaii for what it is not, in a promotional way, to people who know NO better and will take it home to tell their friends about the aloha naia and their coconuts. They might be thinking it’s all just entertainment, but it’s not just entertainment - it’s education!!! And we are not focused enough on that part. Not enough in our homes, not enough in our businesses, not enough in our communities.

The show and the whole experience just made me think more and more about how tired I am of Hawaiians being represented and misrepresented by tourism. Now I’ve heard the argument that it’s too late and Hawaii is too dependent on tourism to do anything else, but I’m saying today that in my opinion that is the biggest lie we have ever been told second only to one: that this is the United States not the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Why do we believe it?? Why do we feed into it? When will we start to believe otherwise? Why can’t we start our own businesses? Why can’t we get the education we need for the careers we want? Who is telling us that we can't?!

I don't think tourism is going anywhere any time soon or should, but I have a problem with the state of mind of people who come to Hawaii and think the beauty of this place is in what they see and are entertained with. It’s not. The true beauty of Hawaii is its people - 

People that are moving away because they can’t afford to live here anymore! People that have to abandon their love of fishing, farming, weaving, and spending time with elders and family so that they can get a 9-5, support their family, and get full health benefits. People that are behind the scenes in their own birth land, because they were forced off of their lands.

It’s the people and the land that we strive to protect. It’s the people and that land that everyone else should strive to respect.

Going to Sea Life Park, I didn’t feel respected as a Hawaiian, but I did feel used. I felt used to make a cute show and a quick buck.

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Mahalo for sharing your heart. I visited Sea Life before the corona. I would like to meet you someday and talk about this. I had lots of up and down feelings there too.


You are too young to remember the show before the last version. It was terrible and not Hawaiian. It had in it a Hawaiian princess get saved by a dolphin from pirates! For years after it was just popular music with no Hawaii at all.
I loved the new show! I loved that they called them nai’a and tied us all together. My family is my just Hawaiian but also is Japanese, Filipino and Haole. I’m so glad we are all here and I was moved by the show when it said that. I don’t believe everything needs to only be education because sometimes stories are good for keiki to imagine and how fun to imagine a dolphin finding something natural to play with them. We always played with coconuts from the hightide when we pretended they were rugby balls and sis, I am real last time I checked! Same with all my ohana I’m sure of it;) I think maybe you went into this with some bad feelings and are maybe taking out some of your hurt on something else. I feel bad for you sis, because I feel like you might be having a hard time in life. No shame in telling people you need help OK? I promise no shame in it. Love on your keiki and hold fast to Akua. Aloha

I would prefer not to say

My only trip to Sea Life Park was in the 60’s. My family stopped in Oahu enroute to Kwajalein Island. It WAS so magical and memorable back then.
So sad to learn about your recent visit there. Happy to hear that you will share your thoughts with the management at the park! It should never become anything like Sea World in Florida. That place is like a circus. Hawaii needs to respect the unique nature that makes it so very special!

Cathy Cohen

I want to say so many things and I am not sure they will all fit in a blog comment! First I don’t know how I found your Instagram page, but I heard you speak in Hawaiian and I was mesmerized. I had to follow you! I want to start with I am one of those tourists to Hawaii. I also want to say that I loathe commercial things to do there and I feel that I cannot be alone in that feeling or group of tourists who love to visit to meet people, talk with locals, hang out on the beach, at a park or other venue. I do believe there are many who feel as I do no matter where they visit that learning about that area’s people, culture, and history is much of why we want to visit those places. It was just as true for me when I went to Scotland for 9 days on a trip where I saw some of the most beautiful castle ruins and learned about the families that lived in those places and the legends of the areas I was fortunate to see. I also compare those visits to the 6 day trip I spent in Pennsylvania searching for beautiful hiking places to see nature or state parks to learn about history in places like Gettysburg or Philadelphia.
I guess what I am saying most is I am not alone, many people out there visit Hawaii and other places to learn about people and their culture and their history and we don’t fall into the tourist trap of commercialism. Keep the faith! Keep teaching your children to speak Hawaiian and to know their history so that one day when they go to the beach they can share a little friendship and conversation with a weary tourist looking for the truth! Much love.

Nina snyder

Aloha e Emily,

I initially clicked on the link wager to show Kaulumaika. I’m am so glad I read your letter/post/blog.

In our home we practice Culture, language and traditions; but not nearly enough (we’re working on that).

In work I work for a kanaka family run business The ‘Iwa Company. Although we don’t offer much in the way of education our activewear encourages people to get out and be fit(both kanaka and not).

Mahalo for your mana’o.

Sarah Salausa

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