A Pacific white-sided dolphin gave birth to an apparently healthy calf today at the Shedd Aquarium after coming home pregnant last year from a trip to Miami’s Seaquarium.
The birth is a rare and important one for the Shedd, where only three of the white-sided dolphins have given birth since arriving in the marine mammal Oceanarium 20 years ago. None of the births was successful.
The mother is Tique, a 26-year-old who accounted for two of the previous births. She had a stillborn calf in 1995, not unusual for first-time dolphin mothers, said Shedd vice president Ken Ramirez.
In 2003 a calf she bore weakened and died after four days when it failed to learn how to nurse. The other dolphin birth at the Shedd was also a stillborn to a first-time dolphin mother.
“This is a good, healthy calf,” Ramirez said of the newest baby, whose sex has yet to be identified. He said the little dolphin is showing signs of wanting to nurse, and its mother seems to be trying to guide it to her mammaries, a learning process which can take two or three days.
“Tique is much more attentive and skilled mother than she was before,” Ramirez said. “The calf surfaced for its first breath soon after birth, and Mom is guiding the calf around the habitat and seems to be trying to show where the calf should go on her body to begin nursing.”
With no resident male Pacific white-sided dolphins living at the Shedd, Tique was sent a year ago to Miami Seaquarium to mate with an adult male. There are less than 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins in captivity in North American facilities, so a successful birth is extremely important.
“This calf must reach several milestones in its first days and months,” said Ramirez. The first is to show that mother and calf are strongly bonded, which can take a few days, he said.
Both mother and calf are being held off-exhibit during the critical first few days, he said. They are under 24-hour staff observation and likely to remain under observation for a few months while the calf passes through several other crucial milestones, such as learning to nurse, swimming on its own, and swimming with other dolphins.