MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Zoo is now home to a group of animals who are considered critically endangered.
A new exhibit featuring Hawaiian Monk Seals opens on Memorial Day weekend. There are less than 1,100 of them surviving in the wild off the shores of Hawaii.
These seals are much larger than harbor seals. They are about 7 feet long and weigh about 500 pounds.
On Wednesday, the zoo gave WCCO-TV’s cameras a preview of what else makes them unique. They’re really something to see.
But don’t expect four out of the five seals to see you.
“At an early age, they developed these impairments, and we don’t really know why. It’s not completely uncommon for seals and sea lions to develop cataracts with age,” said Melanie Oerter, a zoologist who helped the seals get settled.
The seals still get around though, using their flippers and whiskers to help them explore. They also use their sense of hearing.
“They will use things like feeling the edge of the pool or listening for different sounds, like their trainers’ voices, to locate us at the beginning of the training sessions,” Oerter said.
Their movements out of the water can be even more interesting than when they are submerged.
“When they are on the land, seals are not that graceful,” Oerter said. “Because their front flippers are so short, they really inch along like an inchworm on deck.”
And don’t be surprised if they get loud.
“One of our seals, Ola, makes [a loud barking] noise to get attention from the trainers. Only through observation can we speculate what those noises really mean,” Oerter said.
Trainers from SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas, were in Minnesota to help the seals make the transition to their new home.
“They would not be able to survive on their own in the wild,” Oerter said. “They wouldn’t be able to hunt. They wouldn’t be able to avoid predators. But they are thriving in human care. So we are excited to have the privilege and opportunity to take care of these animals.”
The Hawaiian Monk Seals are replacing the dolphin exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo’s Discovery Bay. The first day it’s open to the public is next Saturday, May 23.