Monty and Milo peeked their heads out of the water at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s Owen Sea Lion Shores exhibit Thursday morning.
The harbor seals seemed to glance at Dennis Pate, zoo president and CEO, as he spoke with reporters in the exhibit’s outdoor amphitheater about the two newcomers.
Monty, 2 years old, and Milo, nearly 3, stayed side by side as they explored their 275,000-gallon pool.
That morning was the first time since their arrival in late March and early April that they had access to the entire exhibit and four of the sea lions, which are fellow sea mammals with slightly different physical characteristics, that inhabit it.
The female sea lions, a bit more confident and playful, zipped around the seals curiously. Monty and Milo would later meet the two male sea lions, giving a bit more time to build their comfort levels in the exhibit.
Along with the general excitement of welcoming two new animals to the zoo, the seals’ arrival also marks the first time the Omaha zoo has had harbor seals, Pate said.
“It’s really nice for visitors to see another animal at the zoo that they haven’t seen before,” Pate said. “It adds to the diversity of the animals here.”
Like many animals, Pate said Monty and Milo have their own distinct personalities.
Monty came from the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, where he lived with his parents and female sea lions. Because he has experience with sea lions, Monty is a bit more confident than Milo, who came from the Milwaukee County Zoo and seems to seek comfort from Monty, Pate said.
Milo weighs about 180 pounds, and is brown in color with many spots. Monty weighs about 125 pounds and is gray in color. Both males could grow to 6 feet and 300 pounds.
As a species, seals are smaller and plumper than sea lions. They don’t have ear flaps like sea lions, and their snouts are a bit more “dog-like,” said Christine DuPre, exhibit supervisor.
They’re also more “laid back” than sea lions, so “it’s going to be interesting to see how they interact with the public,” DuPre said as she watched the female sea lions playfully dive and spin underwater, interacting with zoo visitors at the exhibit’s 40-foot-long underwater viewing window.
Though, Pate noted, the zoo didn’t anticipate the sea lions interacting with visitors when the exhibit was built.
“It was a really pleasant surprise,” he said.
The seals may someday interact with people as the sea lions do, but Thursday morning, they were content to explore their new home, Milo sticking closely to Monty’s side.