Edmonton (Canada) Mall lets people swim with 3 California sea lions

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Posted by on July 23, 2008 at 07:58:53:

EDMONTON - West Edmonton Mall plans to launch a new program that would allow visitors into the water to touch and swim with the shopping centre's three sea lions.

Participants who pay $149.95 will be allowed to get in the water with the animals under the supervision of at least one trainer.

"It provides the public with a more up close and personal feel of it, as opposed to just watching from outside the glass," said mall spokesperson Rob Thomas.

Though similar programs exist in the United States, Mexico, and Australia, nothing like this has been tried in Canada before, Thomas said.

He was unable to give further details about the program.

According to Brian Sheehan, marine mammal curator at the Vancouver Aquarium, a program like this one would have to be done carefully.

"With any larger mammal, or any marine mammal, there's always inherent risk involved," he said. "(Sea lions) do have large teeth, and there always is a risk of getting (bitten).

"These are still wild animals."

The three animals at the mall -- Kelpie, Pablo and Clara -- are California sea lions, which can grow to be 2.1 metres long and weigh 450 kilograms; females can reach 1.8 metres and weigh 160 kilograms.

Wild sea lions have been known to attack humans, but Sheehan said attacks by animals in captivity are extremely rare.

Swimmers will have to sign waivers releasing the mall from any risk. No one under the age of 14 will be allowed in the water, and all minors will need to be accompanied by an adult.

The waiver explicitly says that the company has "no control over Sea Lions or the other animals at West Edmonton Mall."

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