Saint Louis Zoo
11:02 am
Wed June 27, 2012

Splash! New sea lion exhibit opens Saturday at Saint Louis Zoo

Starting this Saturday, visitors to the Saint Louis Zoo will have their first chance to check out a new sea lion exhibit.

The 1.5 acre, $18 million habitat will house 11 California sea lions in a large saltwater pool. There’s also an arena for sea lion shows.

Saint Louis Zoo mammal curator Steve Bircher says one of the highlights of the exhibit is a 38-foot transparent tunnel that will take visitors under the exhibit’s 190,000 gallon salt water pool. “There’s about three [feet] of water over you, so that when you’re in that acrylic tunnel, you’ll be surrounded by sea lions swimming on each side of you and over you, and — pretty exciting,” Bircher said.

A 23-foot window near the entrance to the exhibit will offer another underwater view of the sea lions.

Bircher says the main pool varies in depth, from 11 feet near the window down to a shallow beach at the other end.

“And we designed that so that if females produce pups in the future it will be easier for the animals to access the pool, to get in and out,” Bircher said. “It gives the sea lions a more shallow area if they want to lay in the area—be half in the water, half out of the water—they’re able to do that.”

The outdoor exhibit is modeled after the Pacific Northwest coast, with large gray boulders and rocky outcroppings.

The exhibit was also to have included four harbor seals, but three of them died in transit from Canada earlier this month. The fourth is in quarantine at the zoo and is expected to join the exhibit in July.

The cause of the seal deaths is still under investigation.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience