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Baby dolphins mean quiet time at National Aquarium

Now that newborn calves have arrived, visitors can expect a quieter — and cuter — experience

June 02, 2011|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

No one has handled the calves. However, just this week, dolphin training manager Allison Ginsburg spread her palm over the surface of the water, and after passing by tentatively a couple of times, Spirit's calf swam over, very close, and rubbed her whole body against Ginsburg's hand.

"It was amazing," the trainer says.

Until the babies are more stable, aquarium visitors who pay the extra $3 for the dolphin show will get the quiet version.

That means instead of the typical capacity crowd of 1,200, only half that will be allowed in at a time for a show. And when they file into the dolphin area, as the audience did for Wednesday's show, they'll be greeted by the warning, "Shhhhhh," broadcast on multiple video screens.

Staff members roam the rows, explaining to people that the mothers and babies need quiet time. And during the performance, the host makes a point of mentioning the newborns and talking a lot about the dolphin family tree. After a few subdued tricks — considerably less flipping and splashing then one would see at a normal show — visitors watch a short video showing the births of the calves.

While the older dolphins swim freely and showboat in the main tank, hawk-eyed visitors might catch a glimpse of the babies, who are kept in the back with their mothers. The most anyone will see is a glimpse of a tiny baby tail fluke, perhaps the flash of a beak.

Any sight of the babies at Wednesday's show — either in the tank or on the video screen — prompted much oohing and aahing.

Trainers put together the quiet show somewhat on the fly just before Memorial Day after trying to resume the regular performances and realizing the mothers and babies weren't taking it well. They were faltering with nursing and showing other signs of distress.

"We said, 'Wait, let's take a giant step back,'" Whitaker says. "Let's figure out what's going on, and in the meantime, take a chance to present the public with something incredible."

The calves appear to be thriving in the more tranquil atmosphere. Whitaker and Ginsburg guess the quiet programming will continue for another couple of weeks before trainers start trying to add back more regular show elements.

It all depends on how the babies take it.

"Nothing is set in stone here," Whitaker says. "We're very fluid and flexible."


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