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Endangered seals could replace dolphins at Minnesota Zoo

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Officials at the Minnesota Zoo say a group of endangered seals may replace the zoo's popular dolphins.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is looking for a place for orphaned Hawaiian monk seals that suffer from health problems that prevent a return to the wild, Zoo director Lee Ehmke told MPR. Minnesota is a long way from Hawaii, but Ehmke said the Zoo might be a good fit.

The Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most endangered species on the planet. Only about 1,100 are left in the world, Ehmke said.

"What is happening out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that's causing this is sort of a big mystery," he told MPR.

Ehmke said the zoo could seek up to $26 million from the Minnesota Legislature for exhibit upgrades. Some of the money could be used to upgrade Discovery Bay, which had held the dolphin collection.

Here's more about the seals in an 8-minute video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

The zoo ended its dolphin program last year after six dolphins died in its care. It was a controversial closure, as some lawmakers said zoo officials had not been upfront about their plans to close the dolphin exhibit as they sought more zoo funding.

The zoo's last two remaining dolphins found new homes in Chicago and Oakland last fall, MPR reported.

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