BLOOMINGTON — Miller Park Zoo patrons have only a few days left to say goodbye to three of the zoo's most popular entertainers — Kash, Oscar and Killian.
The three harbor seals are departing on Sept. 11, and will join the zoo's former sea lion, Gremlin, at Kentucky’s Louisville Zoo.
"People are sad that they are going. We are too, but it's in the best interest of the seals' welfare," said Jay Tetzloff, who heads the city's zoo, parks, recreation and cultural arts.
The Louisville zoo features a larger, 110,000-gallon, saltwater habitat that is more suitable than Miller Park's 25,000-gallon, fresh-water pool, he said.
For some, like zookeeper Wendy Klessig, saying farewell won't be easy.
"It makes me a little sad that they're leaving and we won't be working with them anymore, but I'm very happy that they're going into the new Glacier Run exhibit at Louisville that is an award-winning exhibit," said Klessig. "The staff there is wonderful, so they are going to be well taken care of."
The seals' years of entertainment will be celebrated at their shows and feedings on Saturday and Sunday.
"They are part of the zoo's history. We had seals or sea lions here since the 1970s. We do shows with them twice a day, every day. Guests love them," said Tetzloff. "We love showing diversity, and seals are definitely different than anything else we have here. So that was a big public draw."
The seal exhibit will be replaced by American alligators that are expected to arrive around this time next year after some modifications are made and paid for with funds raised at the Miller Park Zoological Society's fundraiser, Zoo Do, Sept. 15.
"We're going to get a white alligator, so that will be unique," he said.
Klessig has been training the seals twice a day, five days a week for as long as they've been at the zoo.
"I will miss being with the seals every day," she said. "We've bonded pretty closely with these seals. You have to build a trust relationship to get them to train."
She thinks Oscar is the funniest of the three seals and Killian is one of the biggest stars because he loves to train.
"Kash has been here the longest, and he probably has the biggest attitude," said Klessig. "If he isn't interested in training he will give you the side-eye and swim away."
After McGraw died unexpectedly seven months later, Kilian and Oscar arrived in May 2015.
In addition to performing in shows, Kash succeeded Gremlin as The Pantagraph's guest prognosticator for National Football League games for several seasons.
"I had a crazy idea that I pitched to the sportswriters ... that they match their wits against a sea lion in making picks for NFL games each week." recalled Tetzloff. "When we switched to seals, we thought Kash was a good prospect for picks."
Two footballs with logos were held by a zookeeper for each game. Whichever ball Kash touched first, that was his pick.
Tetzloff is seeking to revive the competition with the newspaper and is considering Hey-Hey, a greater rhea, a part of the ostrich family, that arrived in May, to make the zoo's picks.
"Hey-Hey is a ratite, which includes ostriches, cassowarues, emus, and they are not known to be smart, but he has a little bit of a personality," said Tetzloff.