Seal at SeaWorld San Diego
Seal at SeaWorld in San Diego by mescon is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

9 FIN-TASTIC Animal Experiences at SeaWorld San Diego

Home to thousands of animals, SeaWorld San Diego is a veritable paradise for animal lovers, especially those who enjoy spending time near the ocean. Sure, it’s a mecca for thrill seekers, too, with 16 different rides to choose from, like high-speed roller coasters and splash-tastic water rides. However, all those thrills and chills are simply a sideshow to the main event: the incredible creatures that live there.

Luckily, there are almost as many opportunities available at SeaWorld San Diego for guests to sea them, from free feeding sessions and hands-on touch pools to live presentations like shows and keeper talks to close-up animal encounters and behind-the-scenes tours. Of course, you can always just admire them from afar. Wondering how you can make a splash with SeaWorld San Diego’s menagerie of marine animals? Grab a snorkel and slip into a wet suit as we dive into the ocean of opportunities that are available.

Top 9 SeaWorld San Diego Animal Encounters for Wildlife Fans

Without a doubt, the heart and soul of SeaWorld San Diego are the fascinating creatures that call the park home. They’re so beloved, in fact, that they’ve even inspired (either directly or indirectly) many of the park’s rides, whether roller coasters like Emperor and Manta or kid-friendly attractions like Rescue Rafter and Riptide Rescue, which are themed after the efforts of the SeaWorld Rescue team. In other words, you’re basically immersed in their world no matter what you do during your trip.

That said, as much as we love feeling like a graceful manta ray or imagining that we’re in hot pursuit of a creature in need, the best way to appreciate the many animals of SeaWorld San Diego is by watching, interacting with and learning about them. Best of all, for many of the suggestions on our list, you don’t even need to dive deeper into your travel budget, as they’re already included in the price of your admission. Alright, let’s get started!

SeaWorld San Diego sign
SeaWorld San Diego

“Sea” Creatures at SeaWorld San Diego Animal Exhibits

By far, the simplest way to catch creatures at SeaWorld (not literally, of course) is by making a visit to the park’s various animal exhibits. Scattered throughout the park, from in-queue aquariums to large habitats like Penguin Encounter, Turtle Reef, Shark Encounter and Wild Arctic that are attractions in and of themselves, there’s an animal exhibit around every corner at SeaWorld San Diego.

The easiest way to “sea” animals at SeaWorld Orlando is by checking out the park’s many animal exhibits. Dotted all across the park, from aquariums inside ride queues to stand-alone habitats like Wild Arctic and Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, SeaWorld Orlando animal exhibits offer both above- and below-water views of all the flippered, finned and feathered friends that live at the park. Better yet, each of them is completely free with your SeaWorld ticket.

  • Bottlenose dolphins
  • Beluga whales
  • Pilot whales
  • Orcas
  • Several species of sharks
  • Sea lions
  • Harbor seals
  • Walruses
  • Southern sea otters
  • Bat rays
  • Sea turtles
  • Moray eels
  • Jellyfish
  • Both cold- and warm-weather penguins
  • Flamingos
  • Macaws
  • Sloths
  • And more!

Cost: Free – Included with park admission

Availability: Open daily

Sea lion at SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego by Roller Coaster Philosophy is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Toss Some Fish to Seals and Sea Lions at Sea Lion Point

One of the best ways to show someone how much you care is by feeding them, especially if that “someone” is a seal or sea lion—and Sea Lion Point is home to a whole herd of them. And oh boy, they are hungry! Although the lively pinniped exhibit is located near the back of the park, we guarantee that you’ll hear the boisterous creatures long before you ever reach them. Why? Well, because they make a lot of racket in hopes of scoring a mouthful of tasty fish.

For just a few dollars each, guests can snag a tray of tasty treats to throw their way. Trust us, between hearing them belt it out as they try to get your attention and watching them gleefully feed on their latest catch, it is a ton of fun and definitely worth the price. In fact, this is easily one of our favorite things to do at SeaWorld San Diego. Hoping for something that’s a little on the quieter side? Swim on over to Bat Ray Shallows to feed some snacks to the gentle rays instead. Whichever option you choose, it’s sure to be a good time for children and adults alike.

Cost: Trays of food are available for a small fee

Availability: Open daily

Touch Friendly Bat Rays, Reef Sharks and Tiny Starfish

In our opinion, the best way to experience and learn about anything is by getting hands-on, and that’s exactly what you can do at Bat Ray Shallows, Explorer’s Reef and the Tidepools. Free to enjoy for all SeaWorld San Diego guests, these close-up interaction areas are perfect for animal lovers of all ages, whether children or adults. Start out small with underwater creatures like sea stars at the Tidepools. Then, once you’ve worked up your courage and gotten your sea legs, make your way to Bat Ray Shallows or Explorer’s Reef for a chance to touch friendly rays and reef sharks.

Cost: Free – Included with park admission

Availability: Open daily

Orca show at Seaworld San Diego
Seaworld San Diego 2006 by jondoeforty1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

See Some Amazing Animals in Action During a Live Show

You can’t visit SeaWorld without enjoying one of its spectacular live shows. With a talented cast of creatures like bottlenose dolphins, orcas, California sea lions or Asian small-clawed otters and their trainers, these educational presentations are sure to leave you entertained and, possibly, even a little inspired. Each show tells the story of these fascinating creatures, sharing their unique skills, characteristics and behaviors through impressive feats of athleticism and intelligence. You’ll also learn more about their life inside the park, including their care and training, as well as the difficulties they face living in the wild and the conservations that are being undertaken to protect them.

Each show is held multiple times each day. For the schedule that day, check out the SeaWorld website or app. Unless you purchased Quick Queue with Reserved Seating (prices start at $29.99 per person), show seating is done on a first-come, first-served basis. So, be sure to plan accordingly.

Dolphin Adventures

Watch the park’s pod of high-flying dolphins as they flip, fly, dive and swim through the pool and straight into your heart during Dolphin Adventures. Throughout this exciting show, guests hear how dolphins use their natural behaviors and inherent playfulness to not only survive but thrive in their environment.

Orca Encounter

Be awed and humbled by the strength and intelligence of the ocean’s most powerful predator during Orca Encounter. As masterful hunters, these majestic creatures use complex communication methods and collaboration techniques, working with family members to catch their prey. This illuminating presentation highlights some of those skills and helps to build a deeper appreciation for these mighty animals. Since SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment stopped their killer whale breeding program back in 2016, these orcas are the last to call the park home. So, make sure you see this inspiring show while you still can.

Sea Lion & Otter Spotlight

Held at the Pacific Point Marine Conservation Center, this edu-taining show starring sea lions and small-clawed otters will charm guests of all ages. Throughout the presentation, you’ll have a chance to see some of these cuddly creatures in action and learn everything from their unique personalities and skills to their natural habitats and the challenges they face there.

Cost: Free – Included with park admission

Availability: Multiple showings available daily

Seaworld San Diego
Seaworld San Diego 2006 by jondoeforty1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Catch a Keeper Talk or Watch an Animal Feeding

Eager to learn more? Then don’t miss one of the more intimate presentations offered for free at SeaWorld San Diego, like keeper talks and feedings. Presented several times daily, each of these educational sessions dive deeper into the animals’ care, giving guests an opportunity to ask questions and learn from animal care specialists in a much smaller and more relaxed setting. Each of these animal encounters has a different focus, like the moray eels and octopus of Explorer’s Reef, the creatures of Turtle Reef and the park’s cold- or warm-weather penguins. For the complete list of presentations for the day, check out the SeaWorld app.

Cost: Free – Included with park admission

Availability: Multiple presentations available daily

Dine with Orcas During a Poolside Meal

For a truly wild meal you won’t soon forget, book a table for Dine with Orcas. Held alongside the animals’ habitat, this hourlong specialty dining experience features a dinner and a show like none other, with guests enjoying a chef-curated spread while learning about the unique behaviors of these mighty creatures from knowledgeable animal behaviorists. In keeping with the mission of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, dishes served during the meal are organic and sustainably sourced, like farm-fresh vegetables grown right in California and responsibly fished or farmed seafood. Reservations are greatly encouraged.

Cost: $39.99 per adult, $29.99 per child (ages 3 to 9)

Availability: Open daily, reservations recommended

Beluga whale at SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego by Roller Coaster Philosophy is licensed under CC BY 2.0. (4)

Dive Deeper with an Up-Close Encounter or In-Water Interaction

As interesting and enjoyable as SeaWorld San Diego’s shows and exhibits are, these complimentary (or very low-cost) experiences only really scratch the surface of this watery world. For a closer peek into the lives, routines and daily care of these incredible creatures, you’ll need to embark on a different kind of adventure, one that takes you behind the seas and into the habitats of some of the park’s most fascinating species.

Guided by trainers and animal care specialists, these animal encounters offer an inside look at places like Sea Lion Point, Penguin Encounter and Turtle Reef. Not only will you learn about the efforts that go into the creatures’ care, but depending on the tour, you’ll even get a chance to interact with, feed, pose for a photo with and possibly even touch them.

Note that advance reservations are highly encouraged as spaces are limited. Prices to participate vary by the experience, the day of the week and/or season of the visit.

Beluga Whale Up-Close Encounter

Between $84-$114 each

Join a 20-minute tour at Wild Arctic, where you’ll hear from an animal trainer about the care and enrichment of the canaries of the sea and get a chance to feed them.

Beluga Whale In-Water Interaction

Between $219-$269 each

Wade into the beluga habitat and join these warm-hearted residents of the Arctic Ocean during this roughly 20-minute experience. During this aquatic adventure, you’ll learn about their training, communication and care, as well as the importance of play in their daily lives. You’ll also have a chance to feed and touch them. (Personal swimsuit required)

Dolphin Up-Close Encounter

Between $79-$99 each

Spend some time poolside with some of the ocean’s most playful inhabitants during this fascinating behind-the-scenes tour. During the approximately 10-minute session, guests learn how trainers use hand signals to communicate during their animal interactions and then practice using some themselves.

Dolphin In-Water Interaction

Between $179-$239 each

Go behind the scenes and into the water during this unforgettable creature encounter. During these incredible animal interactions, participants get to join animal care specialists in feeding and playing with the park’s lovable bottlenose dolphins. (Personal swimsuit required)

Flamingo Up-Close Encounter

Between $24-$29 each

Mingle with some new feathered friends during this aviculturist-guided tour. Along the way, hear some of the expert’s personal stories of working with these vibrant birds while also learning about the flamingos’ care and traits.

Killer Whale Up-Close Encounter

Between $69-$99 each

Come face-to-face with a majestic orca during this guided underwater viewing. Led by an animal expert, the killer whale tour runs for approximately 15 minutes and features personal stories of the caretaker’s experiences with these iconic creatures, as well as fascinating insights into their behaviors and care.

Flamingo at SeaWorld San Diego
SeaWorld San Diego by Roller Coaster Philosophy is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Penguin Up-Close Encounter & Pearl Viewing

Between $94-$114 each

Make a cool new friend during this behind-the-scenes tour at Penguin Encounter. Hear all about these cold-weather creatures from an aviculturist, such as their care and the challenges they face in their natural habitat, then go face-to-beak with a couple of members of the colony, including Pearl, the park’s newest addition.

Ultimate On-Ice Penguin Experience & Pearl Viewing

$199 each

Step onto the ice and into Penguin Encounter for an up-close experience unlike any other. After slipping into a jacket and boots provided by Seaworld San Diego, you’ll interact with the park’s colony of penguins (six species in all!), learn about their care from an aviculturist and make a few feathered friends.

Sea Lion Up-Close Encounter

Between $49-$69 each

Get to know these aquatic comedians and learn about the care and training they receive during this approximately 15-minute tour. You’ll also get to sea some of these amazing animals up close and possibly toss them a fish or two.

Sea Otter Up-Close Encounter

Between $69-$99 each

Learn all about some of the ocean’s most comical creatures during this entertaining and informational behind-the-scenes experience. Led by an animal expert, this intimate, 30-minute tour takes place during the sea otters’ lunchtime, allowing guests to give them some of their favorite treats.

Sloth Up-Close Encounter

Between $89-$109 each

Slow things down a little (or a lot) and get up close and personal with one of the park’s arboreal animals during this memorable experience. Guided by an animal care specialist, you’ll find out about these cuddly creatures’ leisurely lifestyle and enjoy a chance to take a #slothie or two.

Turtle Up-Close Tour

$44 each

Go behind the scenes at Turtle Reef and Aquarium Lab during this private, 30-minute walking tour. Guided by an aquarist, you’ll discover the diversity of these gentle souls and the care they require.

Walrus Up-Close Encounter

Between $79-$89 each

Go face-to-whiskers with a giant, mustachioed pinniped during this memorable, behind-the-scenes encounter. Guided by an animal care specialist, you’ll hear all about each creature’s unique personality and daily care.

Cost: Starting at $24 to $269 per person, depending on the day/season and the tour desired

Availability: Varies, reservations highly recommended

SeaWorld San Diego Dolphin Point
SeaWorld San Diego Dolphin Point by warriorwoman531 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Get Hands-On as a Trainer for a Day

Are you a die-hard animal lover? Is there a budding marine biologist in your family? Then, this next-level experience is for you. Though by no means cheap (in fact, it’s downright expensive), this incredible tour of SeaWorld San Diego offers exclusive access to many parts of the park, allowing guests to go behind the seas at Orca Encounter, Penguin Encounter, Shark Encounter, Sea Lion Point and Wild Arctic.

Throughout the seven-hour experience, participants get hands-on, assisting zoological specialists as they prep diets, feed, train and otherwise look over the creatures in their care. They’ll also enjoy unforgettable animal encounters and take in presentations with an expert by their side. And what better way to take a break during the day than with a meal alongside the park’s pod of killer whales?

Cost: $699 each

Availability: Open daily, reservations highly recommended

Splash Out with the Ultimate VIP Tour

Want to experience SeaWorld San Diego with as little stress and as much fun as possible? Consider booking the Ultimate VIP Tour. Priced at almost $500 per person, the Ultimate VIP tour is one of the most expensive experiences in the park. However, you certainly get what you pay for, starting from the moment you enter the parking lot. After pulling into your reserved parking spot, you’ll embark on a whirlwind tour of SeaWorld, where you’ll enjoy front-of-the-line access to rides, reserved seating for shows, and special animal encounters to feed and meet some of the park’s residents. No crowds, no waiting in line—just exclusive access to the best that SeaWorld San Diego has to offer.

Cost: $499 per person

Availability: Open daily, reservations highly recommended

Well, wildlife fans, that concludes our guide to the best animal encounters at SeaWorld San Diego. Have you had a chance to try any of the experiences on our list? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how you can squeeze more out of your travel budget with our discount SeaWorld tickets.

Heading to other theme parks in Southern California? We also offer discounts for SeaWorld San Diego’s sister park, Sesame Place, as well as Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. Traveling to one of the other SeaWorld Parks across the country? We sell discount tickets for SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio, too!