Two bottlenose dolphins at the National Aquarium's Marine Mammal Pavilion may be expecting calves, aquarium officials said yesterday. Blood tests have made officials hopeful of two new arrivals early next year, the first in the aquarium's 10-year history.
"We have found a high level of progesterone in the blood of two dolphins, which is a good indication of pregnancy," said Doug Messinger, curator of marine animals. "We are planning to do diagnostic testing, like an ultrasound, to get a fetal heartbeat or to see the calves, but we are pretty certain the dolphins are pregnant."
No date has been set for the tests, aquarium officials said.
Officials believe that Hailey and Shiloh -- both 11 years old, approximately 370 pounds and 8 feet long -- conceived during a "great amount of breeding activity" in February and March with the aquarium's breeding dolphins, Akai and Nalu.
If the dolphins are pregnant, they would be expected to deliver next February or March.
"We're really excited. Less than a year after the pavilion opens and we've already got two pregnant," said Mr. Messinger. "We have a nice social grouping here."
The 10-year-old aquarium has never been able to breed dolphins. The old marine mammal exhibit did not provide enough natural light or privacy, said Vicki Aversa, a spokeswoman for the aquarium.
"We learned from the past and designed the new building around the needs of the dolphins," Ms. Aversa said of the pavilion, which opened Dec. 26. "They have a 1.2-million-gallon facility to move about in. The fact that they are breeding shows they are happy in their environment."
Aquarium officials said Hailey and Shiloh will receive the best in
prenatal care if they are pregnant.
"Right now, we are being a cautiously optimistic about this. When dolphins are born, their immune systems aren't built up. There is also a high mortality rate among mothers with their first calves," Mr. Messinger said. Hailey has not had a calf.
"They will have frequent physical examinations, be monitored with ultrasound every month or every other month, and we have already begun giving them multivitamin supplements," he said.
If they deliver, Hailey and Shiloh will need more than their current ration of 21 pounds of fish daily to nurse the calves, Mr. Messinger said.