Sparky & Her Pinniped Pals Make A Splash in Their New Home
On June 3rd, 2021, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory held a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open its newest exhibit, Como Harbor, the new seal and sea lion habitat. This exhibit redesign and overhaul features three different pinniped species: two gray seals, two harbor seals, and four sea lions, including Sparky. Como Harbor’s forward-thinking design features include needed upgrades for Sparky the Sea Lion and her seal and sea lion friends as well as for Como’s visitors. Como Harbor is a momentous improvement that will exceed all best practices for the care of seals and sea lions. The habitat features a large salt-water pool that allows the seals and sea lions to swim and socialize outdoors year-round. New behind the scenes space will provide state-of-the-art facilities for the care of the animals.
From a newly shaded amphitheater to a new underwater viewing discovery zone, this multi-layered habitat provides visitors with many opportunities to get up close to the animals and greater insights into their natural behaviors and native intelligence.
Como Harbor is a $21 million reinvention and improvement of Como Zoo’s seals and sea lions exhibit in the heart of Como Zoo. The immersive and naturalistic design of the habitat features rocky outcroppings designed to reflect the Pacific coast. Como Harbor was designed to provide expert care for the animals with elements such as underwater transfers that allow seals and sea lions to swim in and out of spaces, and multiple locations for animal training sessions to allow zookeepers to provide specialized care for all three species that call Como Harbor home.
The seal and sea lion exhibit at Como Zoo has been a fixture for over 60 years. The “Sparky Show”, which began in 1956, has become one of Como’s most popular attractions, sharing fun, educational messages with thousands of visitors each day. Every year nearly 500,000 students from across the region visit to learn about nature, conservation, and animal care straight from Como’s beloved ambassador, Sparky. “As with recent renovations at Como, it’s not about getting bigger it’s about doing what we do better,” explains Michelle Furrer, Como’s Campus Manager. “We want to ensure that, for generations to come, Sparky will be an ambassador for conservation and education.”
Pulling together the resources to reimagine Sparky’s new home has been a statewide effort, made possible with a combination of public funding and philanthropy. The MN State Legislature approved $15 million in public funding in May 2017. Como Friends, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory’s nonprofit partner, raised the final funding needed from individuals, corporations, and foundations. “Minnesotans have a multi-generational connection to the Sparky the Sea Lion tradition” says Jackie Sticha, Como Friends’ President. “Como Friends has a strong track record of success in ensuring that philanthropic dollars are used to elevate and enliven the great public treasure we have in Como Park Zoo & Conservatory”.
Como Harbor is a world-class improvement that will be enjoyed by millions of annual visitors for decades. The partnership between the City of Saint Paul and Como Friends makes it possible to invest in capital improvements, conservation initiatives and best practices while maintaining Como’s free admission policy that opens the doors of opportunity for people from all walks of life.
New visitor amenities are also included in the improvement, including modern bathrooms and Pier 56, a new outdoor café located near Como Harbor. Pier 56 was funded completely by Como’s food partner, Lancer Hospitality, serving grilled burgers, pizza, salads, and kid’s meal favorites including hot dogs and chicken nuggets.
***A word or two about The Sparky Show: We are allowing Sparky and her pals time to get used to their new home before we resume a scheduled Sparky Show. We are hoping for a late summer or early fall return. But, if your timing is just right, you may be lucky enough to catch Como’s zookeepers doing unscheduled training sessions with the seals and sea lions on the Sparky Stage a few times per day.
At this time, reservations are required to visit Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Reservations can be obtained by clicking HERE.