The new fins on the block

Nalu: The latest addition to the National Aquarium's dolphin pool is expected to make waves in the animals' social order.

April 18, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Now they are six in the National Aquarium's dolphin pool, after a dead-of-night transport yesterday involving an Army flatbed truck carrying a live 565-pound load from the airport to the aquarium.

Unbeknown to the families flocking to the aquarium's dolphin shows, the new arrival -- fresh from Sea World in Florida -- was making himself at home on the far side of the divided pool, eating his lunch of herring, capelin and squid, and making a few waves.

His name is Nalu, and this is a homecoming of sorts because he used to live here. In 1994, he was taken away, on loan to two Sea Worlds -- in Ohio and Orlando -- for breeding. Having done his duty by siring a few calves, Nalu is back in Baltimore.

The question is whether he and Nani will remember each other.

"We can't predict. We'll have to wait and see," said Jen Caughron, the aquarium's supervisor of marine mammals. "They may pair up, instead of fighting for dominance."

Nalu and Nani are dolphins of a certain age, 28. They spent some of their youth together. They are close to the same weight: At 550 pounds, the female Nani is a little lighter.

Nani is firmly in charge of the other four dolphins at the aquarium.

The other adult female, Shiloh, is 21. The 8-year-old "boys," Shadow and Cobie, stick together. One other juvenile, a female named Chesapeake, also is 8.

Mix in a large adult male -- who has seen and interacted with all of them before -- and see what happens in this little society.

"Wouldn't it be fun to have a baby dolphin?" said Jill Galloway, the aquarium's director of public relations.

Nalu arrives in the middle of mating season, and Galloway and Caughron expect the new gentleman caller to mate with Nani, rather than Shiloh or Chesapeake, because otherwise the social hierarchy might be disturbed. Nani is capable of breeding and bearing a yearlong pregnancy, they said.

Nalu spent yesterday alone, looking around and adapting to his new environment. Separated from the others by a wall, the dolphins could catch glimpses of each other because the group seemed to sense the presence of a newcomer.

"They're checking each other out," Galloway said.

Caughron said she was pleased with the 9-foot-long Nalu's progress. "He's calm and comfortable, his swim pattern is pretty normal and he's eating well."

The second step to integrating Nalu will be putting Nani in his side of the pool to get reacquainted. Then the two will presumably figure out the new hierarchy.

"Nalu will fit in near the top," Caughron said. "That's just my guess."

Whatever the dolphins decide, the aquarium humans are counting on one thing from Nalu.

"Within a month, he'll be a strong part of our show," Caughron said.

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