The Como Zoo's oldest sea lion, who entertained visitors for 20 years, died Monday at the age of 31. Sparky V was the second-oldest California sea lion in the nation and suffered from multiple ailments, said Como spokesman Matt Reinartz.
As the name indicates, he was the fifth sea lion to don the role of Sparky, the performing pinniped. He played a lifeguard, trumpet player, baseball player and lounge singer, among other roles between 1981 and 2001. He was the longest-running star of the "Sparky Show," Reinartz said. A female sea lion named Sealia, or CC, took over the role in 2002. Even after he retired, Sparky V continued to be trained daily at the zoo in St. Paul. "He was eager to please and incredibly patient, which allowed us many opportunities we would not have had with a typical male sea lion," said senior zookeeper Allison Jungheim. He would let zookeepers brush his teeth, put in eye drops and even pull a loose tooth, Jungheim added.
Sea lions are not to be confused with seals. The former have external ear flaps, are able to walk on all four flippers on land and use their front flippers to swim. Seals have no ear flaps, crawl on their bellies on land and swim with their rear flippers. The average life expectancy of a sea lion is between 15 and 25 years. The Sparky Show became a mainstay at the zoo in 1956. It takes place twice a day, except Mondays, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. No memorial plans have been made for Sparky V.