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Poppy the sea lion is still getting used to the limelight, but you couldn't tell as she waved a flipper at the crowd gathered at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory on Monday afternoon.

The zoo's beloved Sparky Show is back after four summers off, with a rotating cast of seals and sea lions filling in for the title role. The animals will take the stage twice a day throughout the summer in the newly constructed Como Harbor habitat, a $21 million project funded mostly by state bonding dollars.

The St. Paul spectacle, which had its debut return Saturday, looks a bit different from what longtime Sparky fans may remember. Senior zookeeper Allison Jungheim said variety adds to the fun.

"It's going to be a different show every day, all depending on the animals' attitudes and antics," she said. While the previous exhibit only had enough space to feature a single sea lion, the new habitat allows trainers to bring as many as five animals out at a time.

Zookeepers are using the larger exhibit, which contains 25,000 gallons of salt water, to educate guests on the difference between seals and sea lions. Jungheim also explained to the crowd Monday that the animals are trained for husbandry purposes, meaning they participate in their own medical care. (Poppy demonstrated by lifting her head up for eye drops on stage — and was rewarded with a fish.)

The animals are also working on some of their classic tricks, such as ball balances and speed swims.

Sigri Zubair Lucken celebrated her fourth birthday by seeing the show twice in one day. Her mom, Emma Lucken, remembers seeing the Sparky show in the zoo's old amphitheater growing up.

"This is great," Lucken said of the new space. "The seals and sea lions have so much room to swim around, right Sigri?"

Sigri nodded. She and her brother, 2-year-old Barqat, are frequent zoogoers, but this was the Minneapolis family's first visit since the Sparky show resumed.

The show has become a staple of Como Zoo for many Minnesotans since its inception in 1956, when a traveling sea lion act came to St. Paul. The original Sparky performed on the zoo grounds, according to the nonprofit Como Friends' website, and six additional sea lions succeeded her as the zoo's star.

Over time, the shows' focus shifted from entertainment to education. COVID-19 and construction delays postponed the opening of the animals' new habitat, an upgrade from the Works Progress Administration facility where they previously took the stage.

The new amphitheater has plenty of space to sit in the shade — a welcome change for those who ever baked in the sun at a past show. There's also a new café nearby and glass viewing areas.

The Greever family, who recently moved to Minnesota from Arizona, saw the Monday afternoon show featuring Poppy and fellow sea lion Niko.

"I liked how they waved," said Anna Greever, 10.

"I think it was enjoyable how they were able to walk on land," added her 13-year-old brother, Daniel.

The shows may also feature Como Zoo's harbor seals, Kash and Kilian, as well as Subee the sea lion. Additionally, Jungheim said two rescued gray seals, Stan and Wally, are being trained to eventually take the stage.

"While they are all really excited to meet you, they are all very much getting used to the microphone, the music, the clapping and each other," she told the crowd Monday.

Como Zoo does not require admission fees, but visitors are currently required to make online reservations. Sparky shows take place at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily.