Newborn dolphin reported well

Survival through 1st year depends on mother, aquarium officials say

August 01, 2008|By Euna Lhee | Euna Lhee,Sun reporter

A female dolphin calf that was born Sunday at the National Aquarium in Baltimore appears to be in "robust health," but her survival for the critical first year will depend on her mother, aquarium officials said yesterday.

Chesapeake, a 16-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, gave birth at 7:13 a.m. to a 30-pound, 2- to 3-foot-long calf - her third since 1992. The mother will not appear in any shows for at least another year, a spokeswoman said.

The birth comes about two weeks after the loss of a dolphin male calf, which was stillborn July 14. Aquarium officials are awaiting the results of a necropsy at the Johns Hopkins University's comparative pathology lab.

"Since we put so much time and care into these animals, we're very excited with this calf's arrival," aquarium spokeswoman Jen Bloomer said. "Now, the calf's survival is up to the mother."

Sue Hunter, director of animal programs, added that the aquarium was particularly happy to have a female calf join its colony, since dolphins organize themselves into matriarchal societies.

The calf's father, 430-pound Chinook, is on breeding loan from the Minnesota Zoo.

Chesapeake and her calf appear to be thriving, Bloomer said. Aquarium officials are cautiously optimistic about the newborn's progress. Only about a third of calves survive their first year of life, either in the wild or in captivity.

"It's feeding, swimming and going up for air very well, which are good signs," Bloomer said.

Born in Baltimore, Chesapeake has given birth to two healthy calves that subsequently died. Bridgit, a 4-month-old, had pneumonia when she died at the aquarium in 2004. The next year, 4-year-old Raven died of an acute bacterial infection.

After Chesapeake gave birth on Sunday, dolphin shows were suspended Monday and Tuesday. Starting Wednesday, the aquarium began conducting quiet shows, in which visitors are asked to minimize noises.

Over the next few months, trainers and volunteers will monitor the calf's growth through round-the-clock observations. She will nurse from her mother until about the age of 3 months, when keepers will start feeding her fish.

As she develops, the aquarium will determine plans to name her.

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