It is with heavy hearts we announce the passing of a beloved member of our Como Zoo family: Sealia, better known as CC, Como’s oldest sea lion. CC passed away at the age of 31 on Saturday, April 16, 2022. The average life expectancy of a sea lion is 15-25 years. Millions of people, young and old, had been enthralled and educated by this California sea lion as she starred in the “Sparky Show” from 2002 up until her retirement in 2015. She was the sixth sea lion to take on the coveted Sparky role and the first female Sparky.
CC was born at Como Zoo and was the Grand Dame of Como Harbor, the new seal and sea lion habitat that opened in June of 2021. When she wasn’t making waves in Como Harbor, she would be soaking in her “hot tub”, which was a kiddie pool filled with warm water refreshed several times a day by her keepers. “CC was very smart” said Senior Zookeeper Allison Jungheim. “She had her own preferences for trainers, fish, sleeping locations, and much more. She had her keepers wrapped around her flipper, who were always willing to cater to her wishes.”
CC had a wide range of behaviors for which she had been trained. Having been Sparky VI, she had showy behaviors like ball balance, flipper stands, and speed swims as well as husbandry behaviors such as toothbrushing, voluntary vaccinations, and voluntary blood draws. These husbandry behaviors helped her live to be one of the oldest sea lions in Association of Zoo & Aquarium (AZA) institutions. As one of the first animals to participate in the operant conditioning training program when it was established by Como zookeepers, she was an avid learner and mostly eager participant in training sessions.
Over the past several weeks zookeepers and Como’s Vet had been monitoring CC and her declining health. CC had gone off food several weeks ago and was not interested in participating in training sessions. Bloodwork showed decreased kidney function and a possible systemic infection. Despite zookeeper and veterinary support and treatment, her condition continued to decline. Como’s zookeeper staff and veterinary team made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize CC on Saturday April 16, 2022 surrounded by her keepers. She was a beloved ambassador of her species and will be deeply missed by all who knew and cared for her, including her fin-footed friends Subee, Poppy, Niko, Kash, Kilian, Stan, and Wally.
“Como Zoo is proud of the great work we do with our animals, and this animal’s long life is a result of the amazing care by zookeepers and veterinary staff, as well as the Zoo industry embracing and learning more about geriatric animals in captivity” said Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory Manager.
“Great medical care, carefully formulated diets, and comfortable housing for all Como’s animals contribute to the excellent health and lifespan of our animals.”
While many associate the “Sparky Show” with a seal, it has actually been a sea lion that has been the star of the educational performance and attraction at Como Zoo since 1956 when Archie Brand brought his traveling sea lion show permanently to Como Zoo. Sea lions, such as CC have external ear flaps, are able to rotate their hind flippers beneath them to walk on all four flippers and use their front flippers to propel themselves through the water. By comparison, seals have no external ear flap, move on land much like an inchworm, and use their back flippers to swim.
The SPIRE Sparky Show will resume on May 7th in the KSTP Amphitheater. This reimagined show will highlight all 7 animals that call Como Harbor home each adopting the role of “Sparky” on any given day as they get to know each other, the habitat, and their adoring fans.