Updated: 01/30/2014 4:27 PM
Created: 01/30/2014 1:19 PM KSTP.com
By: Heidi Enninga
A new home for “Sparky” the sea lion will be part of a $14.8 million habitat improvement project for the seal and sea lion exhibit that Como Zoo officials said on Thursday they hope to open in 2017.
The “Sparky Show” has become one of the zoo’s most popular attractions since it started more than 50 years ago. Zoo officials said the new habitat will help the facility meet changing federal regulatory requirements for marine animals and keep them at the zoo in the future.
Each year, the zoo reports that nearly a half million students come to see and learn about the seals and sea lions, which are now displayed in a variety of locations at Como. In the warmer months, they are in the outdoor exhibit called Sea Island, and in the winter months, the animals are moved inside the Marine Mammal building.
Sparky is housed year-round in separate pool from the other seals and sea lions.
The proposed improvement concept includes two saltwater pools with above and below water viewing and improved amphitheater experience. The new habitat also has a focus on training, and would give visitors the chance to watch as the sea lions and seals get individual attention and work on husbandry behaviors.
Of the $14.8 million needed for the project, $1 million will come from the private sector, but the rest would come from a request for general obligation bonds in the 2014 legislative session.