Como Park Zoo and Conservatory unveiled plans for an extreme makeover of Sparky the sea lion’s home at Como Zoo. The new, world-class habitat will provide a unique and immersive northwest coastal visitor experience and a year-round indoor and outdoor use that will meet or exceed all regulatory and collection management requirements. Due to changing federal regulatory requirements for marine mammals, habitat preservation of the seals and sea lion exhibit is needed to keep these animals at Como for future generations.
The seal and sea lion exhibit at Como Zoo has been a fixture for over 50 years. The “Sparky Show”, which began in 1956, has become one of Como’s most popular attractions, sharing fun, educational messages to 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.
Currently the seals and sea lions are displayed in a variety of locations at Como. The outdoor exhibit was originally called Monkey Island when it was built during the WPA in the 1930s, but was modified in the early 1980s is now called Seal Island. During the winter months the animals are moved inside the Marine Mammal Building where Sparky, an iconic Minnesota figure, is housed year-round in a separate pool from other seals and sea lions. Both the island and the indoor pools lack adequate collection management requirements.
The concept for the project features two saltwater pools with above and below water viewing, along with an improved amphitheater experience for guests. One of the most important features of the new habitat focuses on the training of the animals. With the new habitat, opportunities for operant conditioning training of the pinnipeds will increase and offer better views for our visitors to experience the training. There will be opportunities for individual attention, as well as opportunities to work on advanced husbandry behaviors to further the animal welfare for the collection.
“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. In order to do this updates are needed.”