8-day-old dolphin calf takes turn for the worse Officials suspend shows at pavilion

April 03, 1992|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

The joy of two seemingly successful dolphin births last month at Baltimore's National Aquarium has given way to a sense of helplessness and worry over the survival chances of the youngest calf.

Although the second calf, born eight days ago, is nursing from and swimming side by side with its mother, the aquarium's husbandry director said yesterday that it seems to be losing weight.

"Hailey, the mother, is doing well and she's being in many ways a good mother, allowing the calf to nurse," said Chris Andrews, the husbandry director and a specialist in aquatic diseases. "For some reason, it is not gaining weight. . . . We feel the milk isn't being produced in sufficient quantity, or the quality of the milk isn't right, or the calf has something physiologically wrong with it."

Dr. Andrew added: "There's really not much we can do."

Aquarium officials, after briefly reopening the Marine Mammal Pavilion's amphitheater, have again suspended dolphin shows there and are evaluating the situation daily. Admission prices are reduced by $2 when the shows are canceled, and visitors also receive a discount coupon good for a subsequent visit.

"The response we've had from the public has been tremendous. People are going into the amphitheater and giving it great respect as a nursery," Dr. Andrews said. "They realize something special has happened."

Although shows have been canceled, the public has been able to watch videos of the two births -- the earlier one having occurred March 7 -- playing on monitors. A staff member explains what is going on as the dolphin mothers, Shiloh and Hailey, twist in the water and thrust their tails in time with labor contractions.

Human mothers, Dr. Andrews said, have been taking advantage of the display to explain childbirth to their youngsters. "The level of embarrassment is lower than if it were a four-legged animal and furry, or indeed human," he said.

The ailing calf's first-time mother, Hailey, was found to have liver problems late in pregnancy and the aquarium staff had feared for her survival through the yearlong gestation period. Dr. Andrews said the problems may simply be representative of "first-calf syndrome," based on studies showing that 60 percent of the first-borns in captivity and the wild appear to die within a month of delivery.

"We certainly don't want to do anything in those [dolphin] pools that will upset Shiloh or Hailey. In terms of intervening, it's not like a terrestrial mammal where you go in and take it," he said. "The whole process of catching and removing the calf would be very stressful to the mother."

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