A new dolphin calf, the first to be born at the National Aquarium, in Baltimore, has passed the first test of its survival by suckling from its mother, a 13-year-old Atlantic bottlenose named Shiloh.
"Both mom and calf seem to be doing quite well. We're cautiously optimistic," said John Jarkowiec, a senior mammalogist at the Aquarium. "The mom is producing milk, and the calf is suckling."
The calf was born at 8:25 p.m. Saturday. It suckled for the first time 6 1/2 hours later and has since followed an almost hourly schedule of nursing. Suckling is essential within the first 24 hours of life, Mr. Jarkowiec said, when the mother is producing colostrum, milk rich in antibodies that the calf needs to strengthen its immune system.
The Aquarium staff knows the calf is getting the colostrum because of the white cloud that floats up when it disengages from its mother, Mr. Jarkowiec said. And, the calf is a strong swimmer, he said.
"If the calf were not getting [colostrum], it would not be as feisty as it is now," he said.
The gestation period for dolphins is 12 months. Most calves are born almost 3 feet long, weighing from 30 to 40 pounds, Mr. Jarkowiec said. This is Shiloh's third calf. Her first was stillborn, 00 he said, and her second is now in an aquarium in Florida. Infant mortality is high for first-born calves, he said.
Chances of survival improve for succeeding calves, he said, as the mother "learns from her mistakes." Dolphin births in captivity are not unusual, he said, although this is a first for the Baltimore Aquarium.
Shiloh and another pregnant dolphin, Hailey, were separated from the other dolphins in October to live in their own maternity pool. Mr. Jarkowiec said the Aquarium staff is concerned about Hailey, whose calf is due within the month, because she is small and this is her first pregnancy.
The staff is hoping that Hailey might benefit from watching the birth and the bonding between Shiloh and her calf. Hailey and Shiloh and her calf are being kept in one of the largest holding pools, away from direct public view. But Aquarium visitors will be able to watch the calf's progress through a closed-circuit video monitor.
The sex of the new calf will not be determined for several months, or after the staff has a chance to get a good view of its underside. It will not be named until then.
The amphitheater of the Marine Mammal Pavilion was being closed today to preserve the quiet for mother and calf. The closing could be extended, if necessary. When the marine mammal section reopens, shows in the amphitheater will feature only dolphins -- with the popular beluga whales expected to be sent to Sea World of Texas.
The Aquarium staff will continue to monitor the dolphin calf closely for the next several days.
"We're in no way out of the woods yet," Mr. Jarkowiec said.