Como Zoo sea lions CC, Subee, Niko and Poppy are about to meet two new neighbors, Kash and Killian. The two young harbor seals set out on a long journey to St. Paul last month to begin their official move into Como Harbor, the $20 million seal and sea lion habitat now nearing completion at Como Zoo.
“It was a big move, and right now, there are a lot of new things for Kash and Killian to adjust to,” says Como Zoo aquatics keeper Becky Sievers. Originally from the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois, the two harbor seals, ages 8 and 7, have been living at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky since Como Zoo started construction of their new habitat. With the major behind-the-scenes animal care components now complete, Kash and Killian are the first animal ambassadors to live in the new Como Harbor compound, where Como Zoo’s current cohort of sea lions will join them in the months ahead.
“The first thing we had to do when they arrived was to keep them in quarantine for 30 days, to make sure they’re healthy and ready to be introduced to the rest of the animals,” says Sievers. As Como Harbor’s salt-water pools near completion, the sea lions will soon get a chance to meet their new neighbors in behind-the-scenes encounters called “a howdy” at the door that allow animals to see, smell and hear each other before taking the deeper dive into sharing the habitat.
While Como Zoo keepers are just getting to know their two new arrivals, they’re pleased to see how well the harbor seals are adjusting to their new home. “They have some behaviors that will definitely be fun for visitors to see up close when Como Harbor opens,” Sievers says. For instance, both seals can spring up out of the water and touch a ball—a playful and splashy behavior that Como Zoo’s sea lions also display.
“Killian also came with his favorite toy, which is a short length of firehose that looks like a piece of kelp. He likes to nudge that around in the water, and he also does a little roll into the water that’s fun to watch,” Sievers says. His companion, Kash, is the more reserved of the two, “and seems to look to Killian, who’s larger and a little more confident, for cues.”
While Kash and Killian adjust to their new digs, construction crews are putting the finishing touches on many of the habitat’s most important features. For instance, the amphitheater is now complete with sun protection structures that are bound to be a big hit with visitors when the habitat is officially unveiled next year. Large trees and other plantings have also begun this fall, bringing a more naturalistic look to the seal and sea lion habitat.
While the Covid-19 crisis allowed construction crews the chance to make progress on the habitat this spring without displacing Como visitors, it also caused a delay in delivery of many curved, custom-built pieces of acrylic that will give visitors a four-season view into Como Harbor’s salt water pools. “Those products come from all over the world, and they just arrived now,” says Como Campus Director Michelle Furrer. “Once those pieces are installed, and the pool is waterproofed, we’ll be able to fill the pools and finish the pool facade.”
As Como Harbor nears completion, plans are being discussed for a spring grand opening of the habitat. Precautions related to COVID will be integrated into the public unveiling of the habitat, says Jackie Sticha, president of Como Friends. “Though we’d love to welcome the community to come see Como Harbor with a big reveal, ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration, that won’t be possible at this time. We will develop a celebratory grand opening that invites the public to explore Como Harbor following best practice safety standards.” (Watch for updates on the grand opening celebration in future editions of the Como Promo.)
The change of plans will give Como Harbor’s six seals and sea lions plenty of time to get comfortable in their splashy new digs, and will extend the community celebrations surrounding this six-decade Minnesota tradition. “No matter when we get a chance to see and experience Como Harbor together, I think Como’s community can be very proud of what they’ve done to keep the Sparky tradition alive and relevant for a whole new generation of zoo visitors,” Sticha says.