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Monday, July 24, 2006 | As a native San Diegan, I’ve always considered SeaWorld the local equivalent of the Statue of Liberty: A place frequented by tourists but not locals.

After visiting the park for the first time in 10 years, I have to say that’s a shame because the park really is a cool place, full of variety and fun things to do for people of all ages.

Even cynics.

That’s because SeaWorld is more enlightened than other amusement parks – they sell beer.

Plus, there are lots of Budweiser advertisements in the bathrooms, many of which point out that Anheuser-Busch, the brewery that owns SeaWorld, is American-owned while Miller Brewing is owned by a South African company.

If you drink (responsibly, of course) as much as beer as Anheuser-Busch executives hope you will during your SeaWorld experience, you spend almost as much time in the can as you do in the aquariums.

Adding to the beer fest: There’s even a “Beer School” on the premises for folks who would prefer learning about beer foam than sea foam.

I didn’t get a chance to imbibe during my visit but I would love to toss back a cold one with Shamu some time.

Shamu, in case you live under a rock 300 feet below the ocean surface, is the big star at SeaWorld. Actually, there’s lots of Shamus and they all look alike and share the name without conflict.

For the last 40 years, Shamu has been San Diego’s biggest international celebrity. He’s sort of like what Don Ho is to Hawaii and Wayne Newton is to Vegas (except those guys are allowed to tour; Shamu isn’t).

As far as San Diego celebs go, Shamu is pretty respectable. He’s never used dirty words like Frank Zappa; he never insulted the press like Ted Williams; and he never choked on the 18th hole of the U.S. Open like Phil Mickelson.

Still, while watching him perform, I got the sinking suspicion that Shamu has some very conservative political views.

Maybe it was the moment of silence for our troops or the American flag he waves during his big splash. Or the big speech he makes at the climax of his show demanding that the capital gains tax be reduced (Okay, I made that part up).

I love Shamu as much as the next person and I must admit it is incredible watching what the trainers do with him. It’s amazing and a little intimidating. One of my friends briefly dated a whale trainer and he felt he could never match up by comparison because, as he put it, “What girl wants to go out for rolled tacos after riding a whale all day?”

But while SeaWorld trainers deserve kudos for being able to make a killer whale swim with a young nubile human without turning them into chum, let’s face it: Shamu has a few basic tricks and the rest of the show is basic window dressing.

Sentimental window dressing at that. The current show, “Believe,” uses a giant screen to show a whale trainer with a whale tail pendant around his neck next to a black and white photo of what is supposed to be him as a teen.

The trainer says something like, “It was my dream to be a whale trainer and I wear this pendant to remind me of that dream.” Then he points to randomly selected kid in audience and says, “This is RANDOMLY SELECTED KID and HE/SHE wants to be a whale trainer when they grow up.”

Then he takes his pendant off and gives it to the kid as the prerecorded music swells more than the waves made by Shamu’s splashes.

Another example of Shamu showmanship. A lot of the whale trainers work hard in the water while others work hard at getting the audience to clap along to the prerecorded music.

There’s a little dance they do where they put one arm out at an angle, the other arm out at an angle, bring the hands together to make what is supposed to be a fin and then chant “Shamu Shamu.”

Watching a full stadium of folks going “Shamu Shamu” over and over again made me wish Leni Riefenstahl was there to make a new documentary called “Triumph of the Whale.”

Like I said, the show is called “Believe,” and, afterwards, I told my wife, “I believe I’d like a beer.”

“You’re such a cynic.”

“You have to believe in something.”

One thing I do believe about SeaWorld is this: It’s a shame the place doesn’t have more seafood restaurants. The beloved Atlantis restaurant closed years ago and, since then, there isn’t a really nice place to eat there. All the food places are sort of cafeteria-like places where you wait in line to order and then find a seat.

Even worse: Almost every restaurant makes the cashiers serve two lines of customers so they have to take money from one side and then the other and it makes for long lines and cold food.

Also, none of the restaurants serve fish. Well, that’s not correct. The Shipwreck Cafe serves salmon and a shrimp salad along with chicken, ribs and burgers. Still, you would think they could make a killing off of sushi.

Personally, after walking through the aquarium and seeing some delicious looking yellowtail, I was definitely craving sushi.

I guess I understand the reasoning. So much of SeaWorld is about respecting ocean life and conserving it so I guess eating it is not really an option. Too bad because Shamu looks delicious.

David Moye is a La Mesa-based writer who believes the only words that rhyme with “Shamu” are “damn you,” and “Albert Camus.” If you can think of others, send him an e-mail at moyemail@cox.net Or, send a letter to the editor.

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