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Second dolphin calf dies at National Aquarium

Cause of two-month old female's death unknown

June 26, 2011|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

Late Saturday afternoon, when the water had dwindled to thigh-high, staff waded in to grab the calf and draw her blood. Keeping Spirit close by, they gave her antibiotics and fluids. Because the calf was unaccustomed to holding still, someone worked her tail up and down for hours, to give her a sense of movement. They held her lightly, and walked her around the shallow pool.

It was about 8 p.m. when she died.

"We were trying to save her but we didn't know what was wrong," Hunter said. "They mask their symptoms so much. When they start to show you something, they're already really sick inside."

Of 14 calves born at the aquarium since 1992, five died within their first year of life. Two more died as juveniles.

Aquarium officials had no plans to breed any of the dolphins any time soon. They had assumed their hands would be full with the two calves.

With no breeding arrangements in place, and with the gestation period of a dolphin nearly one year, Hunter guessed Baltimore had seen its last dolphin newborns for at least a couple of years — perhaps longer if officials go ahead with discussed infrastructure updates at the aquarium. Sensitive newborns and building construction don't mix.

The body of Maya's calf has joined the other at Johns Hopkins. It could be a two-week wait for results. The lab will then likely cremate the remains.

For now, Hunter calls the deaths "a mystery." She has no idea if they are related, if the timing is mere coincidence.

While they wait for answers, aquarium staff are keeping a close eye on their eight remaining dolphins. Hunter says there are no signs of any problems.

"You just want to take every precaution," she says.

Trainers are also trying to distract the mothers, who are grieving in their own way. They've been calling out to their missing calves, and looking for them in the water.

"They're mourning," Weadock says. "Just like we are."


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