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Como Zoo’s oldest sea lion, a star in the beloved ‘Sparky Show,’ dies at 31

Born at Como Zoo in the early 1990s, CC entertained and educated millions of people between 2002 and 2015 as the titular — and first female — star of the “Sparky Show,” which debuted in 1956 when trainer Archie Brand settled his traveling sea lion show at the city-owned zoo.

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CC, Como Zoo’s oldest sea lion died on April 16, 2022, at the age of 31.
Courtesy of Susannah Baudhuin via St. Paul Pioneer Press
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ST. PAUL -- The oldest sea lion at St. Paul’s Como Park Zoo, one in a storied line of performers in the zoo’s beloved “Sparky Show,” died over the weekend at age 31.

Sealia spent more than a decade as an ambassador for her species, starring in the zoo’s long-running “Sparky Show,” which teaches visitors about the whiskered marine mammals and the importance of conservation, according to a news release issued Tuesday by Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

Affectionately known as CC, zoo officials described her as “the Grand Dame” of their new seal and sea lion habitat called Como Harbor, adding that she “had her keepers wrapped around her flipper.”

CC had been in declining health for several weeks and suffered from failing kidneys, the news release said. Como zookeepers and veterinarians euthanized the ailing California sea lion on Saturday, after her condition deteriorated further. The zoo said she died “surrounded by her keepers.”

In addition to a carefully formulated diet and “amazing care by zookeepers and veterinary staff,” zoo officials credited CC’s longevity — the average lifespan of a California sea lion is between 15 and 25 years — to the behaviors she learned as part of Como’s operant conditioning training program, such as allowing the zoo’s staff to brush her teeth, draw her blood and vaccinate her.

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“CC was very smart,” senior zookeeper Allison Jungheim said in the news release. “She had her own preferences for trainers, fish, sleeping locations, and much more.”

When she wasn’t performing for the public, CC enjoyed soaking in her “hot tub,” which was a kiddie pool that her keepers kept filled with warm water and suds, the news release said.

Born at Como Zoo in the early 1990s, CC entertained and educated millions of people between 2002 and 2015 as the titular — and first female — star of the “Sparky Show,” which debuted in 1956 when trainer Archie Brand settled his traveling sea lion show at the city-owned zoo.

“As Como evolved, Sparky became a conservation ambassador, with a show that teaches visitors everything from the value of recycling to protecting marine mammals from plastic pollution,” according to the zoo’s website.

CC was the zoo’s sixth Sparky; her predecessor, Sparky V, also lived to be 31.

The “Sparky Show” has been on a four-year hiatus since 2017. Three years were spent constructing the new $21 million Como Harbor in the heart of the zoo’s grounds. The state-of-art facility opened last June, but shows weren’t performed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, twice-a-day performances are set to resume on May 7 with a rotating cast of seven sea lions taking on the role of Sparky.

“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,” the zoo’s Tuesday announcement said.

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To celebrate the resumption of the “Sparky Show,” Como Zoo is commissioning local artists to paint a series of 20 Sparky statues that will be placed around the Twin Cities. The deadline for applications, which can be submitted by email to nate.utpadel@ci.stpaul.mn.us, is Sunday at noon. More information is available on the zoo’s website.

Related Topics: ST. PAULSCIENCE AND NATURE
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