Special dolphin update

As you may have already learned through news media, Spirit’s calf passed away over the weekend. Having just endured the sudden loss of Maya’s calf last week, this has been an extremely sad and difficult week for everyone at the National Aquarium.

As we shared last week, Maya’s calf died suddenly early Tuesday morning. The male calf appeared strong and was being cared for and nursed by his mother Maya, and was living in the same pool as Spirit and her female calf. There were no signs of declining health.

Just days later, on Friday, June 24, Spirit’s female calf began showing signs of declining health. The marine mammal team kept close watch of the calf for the next 24 hours, tracking respiratory and nursing patterns, as well as behavioral changes. On Saturday, the veterinary staff intervened with a medical procedure, but despite their best efforts, the calf passed away.

Spirit’s calf was also transported to John’s Hopkins where tests are being performed. At this time, our animal care staff does not have answers as to whether the two deaths are related, but we will know more in the weeks to come.

Though these losses were sudden, our dolphin trainers and veterinarian team are always cautiously optimistic about the survival of the calves. Dolphin calves have a high mortality rate: a high percentage of calves born in any setting don’t survive their first year. But even with this in mind, these losses are extremely difficult for our team who works tirelessly to provide our animals with the absolute best care.

Several aspects affect dolphin calf survival, as they are especially fragile in their first year of life, regardless of whether they are in the ocean or in an aquarium.

Dolphins are born in the water and must immediately begin swimming along with the mother, surfacing to breathe, and nursing underwater while staying on the move. That is a lot to do at one time, and it is amazing to watch a dolphin calf learn these skills in its first month of life.

In addition to hitting those milestones, the first few weeks of life are precarious because the calf’s immune system is not developed, which is the main cause of infection. It’s important that the calf nurses in the first 36 hours. The first milk, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies and minerals that are needed to strengthen the calf’s immune system to fight infection. After this time period, the antibody levels drop off, although the milk remains high in fat and energy.

Because Maya was a first-time mother, we had initial concerns about the amount of time it took for the calf to nurse and receive the antibody-rich milk needed to fight off infection. Spirit’s calf, however, did nurse in the first 26 hours and was showing great signs of growth up until last week.

When a calf’s health begins to decline, the Aquarium does everything it can, but ultimately, the survival of the calf depends largely on the mother. In spite of this level of care, sometimes nature overrides our best efforts.

On Sunday, all dolphin shows were canceled and the amphitheater was closed to the public so the trainers could tend to the mothers and spend time interacting with the entire dolphin group. When an event like this occurs, it is important we focus on the animals because they have lost one of their own and we have learned that it affects them.

Staff and volunteers continued 24-hour observations of the dolphins on Sunday. This morning, we temporarily canceled shows so that our animal health staff and trainers can assess the health of all of our dolphins.

Even though our dolphin presentation is very popular among our visitors, with shows selling out daily during the summer, the care and health of our animals always comes first. Changes to the show can occur on a daily basis, which is the nature of working with animals. Given the uncertainty of these recent deaths, it is important that we take a step back so we can get a good look at the health of our entire dolphin family.

Thank you to all of our terrific friends, fans, and followers for reaching out and sharing condolences. Your kind words and support are deeply appreciated.

We remain committed to keeping our friends, visitors, and supporters regularly updated on the status and health of the 16,000-plus animals that call the Aquarium home.

We welcome questions and comments and encourage you to please share them in the section below or on our Facebook page, or to dolphins@aqua.org.

27 Responses to “Special dolphin update”


  1. 1 Rebecca June 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    So so so sorry for your loss! We were at the aquarium two weeks ago and saw the babies…this saddens my heart. Know that your work is amazing, and we appreciate all you do for not only dolphins, but all marine animals.

    • 2 Janis Reeder July 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      we were also there two weeks ago i had the time of my life i just want to say how sorry i am to hear about the lost of the calfs we also saw them and they wre sooo beautiful….. keep doin the awesome work you guys do…

  2. 3 Diane Wood June 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I am so sorry about your/our loss. Thank you for all you do to educate us. Diane Wood

  3. 4 Robyn June 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    We are truly sorry for your loss. I wish we could’ve seen them before they passed away as my daughter is a huge mammal lover and was extremely saddened by these losses.

  4. 5 Tia May June 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    We are so sorry for your loss. Our family and friends enjoy visiting the aquarium, and by far the biggest attraction has always been the dolphin show. Here is to the continued good health of the rest of the pod.

  5. 6 susanna brice June 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    So sorry for everyone there, I know everyone did all they could do.Kepp your head up with the rest of your marine animals .God Bless everyone there and the animals.

    Susie

  6. 7 Adrienne Whitman June 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    How are the mothers doing now? This must’ve been a shock to them.
    We always enjoy the dolphin show. Thank you for all your caring.

  7. 8 Jaime June 30, 2011 at 7:56 am

    So sorry to hear about the loss! My family and I were able to see the dolphin calves bonding with their mothers when we came for a visit the end of May. Praying for the health of the entire dolphin family and for all of the animal staff.

  8. 9 National Aquarium June 30, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Thank you all for the kind words! We very much appreciate the support. @Adrienne, our animal trainers do believe the mothers went through mourning, just as the staff did. We are continuing to monitor the mothers through 24-hour observations.

  9. 10 Sheri June 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    So sorry to hear about your loss, that is so sad! We did just see those sweet babies in May. Our sincere condolences to all the staff and for the dolphin family as well.

  10. 11 Marianne and Marty Erlichman June 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    We are members and were at the Aquarium on Saturday with our two grandchildren. Of course we got tickets fot the 3:30 PM dolphin show and were disappointed when we were told the show was cancelled due to some “issues”. Of course we understand now and know you did the right thing-the health of the dolphins comes first. We realize now what a nervewracking and sad day it was for all the staff at the aquarium. Our condolences to the staff on the loss of these two dolphin calves.

  11. 13 Mimi June 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    My children were just there and saw the show and the babies. They are so sad. Take care of the dolphin family. We can see the show after we know they are well.

  12. 14 margaret w. June 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I am sad to hear of the losses. We were able to bring our daughter to see the babies in early June, she absolutely loved it. Hope all goes well with the rest of the pod during this mourning period.

  13. 15 niranjan June 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Sorry to hear that,
    We were lucky to see 1.20 show on the 25june2011… all of the dolphins were looking healthy. We saw one of the babies. Sorry to know about their news….We heard that our following show was cancelled….. We dint knew that this was the reason…

  14. 16 Stacy June 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I’m so sorry for the loss of the baby dolphins. You guys do such a great job with these animals. My daughter and I were looking foward to watching them grow and helping name them in the coming months. We’re planning to visit the the aquarium tomorrow, and will surely miss the dolphin show, but we understand the circumstances. We’ll still enjoy seeing the other animals and fish that your team takes such great care of, and watching the dolphins through the viewing tank.

  15. 17 Kim Tran June 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of the loss. The calves were so adorable and my family loved them as did all. We all know that even in a world class facility like the National Aquarium, dolphins in captivity undergo tremendous stresses (the noise is practically deafening to them). However, I had hope that these little guys would overcome it and somehow live a happy life.

  16. 18 Emily H June 30, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    This is the saddest news, we were there to visit the end of May and so excited to get to meet the babies. My family and I are so sorry for your losses, I am praying for each mother as I am one too. Our tradition of visiting the aquarium will be a little bittersweet next year. Thank you to all the trainers and staff for always doing the best for the marine life everyday. <3

  17. 19 Emily H June 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    This is the saddest news, we were just the the end of May and so excited to see the babies. My family and I are so sorry for your losses. Our tradition of visiting the aquarium will be bittersweet next year. Thank you to all the trainers and staff for always doing the best for the marine life. <3

  18. 20 Danielle Clagg June 30, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    I am so very sorry about the loss of the baby dolphins. I know that you all must be very sad. I am happy to hear that you are spending time with the mothers because I am sure in their own way they feel the loss of thsir children. My family and I love to come to the aquarium and appreciate all of your hard work, dedication, and love you have for the animals

  19. 21 Allison Lileikis June 30, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    This is absolutely terrible. I am so very sorry about the calves. Unfortunately, I never got to see them but when I was there last month with my husband we did see the video of them being born. This is without a doubt the saddest story I’ve read in a very long time. I hope the mothers are doing better with each day that passes. My thoughts go out to them and the staff of the aquarium.

    Sincerely,
    Allison Lileikis

  20. 22 Sherry Ross June 30, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    How very sad to hear of the death of the baby dolphins. My family and I were privileged to see them in early June, and their passing strikes a particularly sad cord in our hearts. Thoughts and prayers to the Aquarium staff and trainers in the wake of your loss.

  21. 23 Christina July 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I am so sad to hear about the little baby dolphins passing away. I want to cry :( We are actually coming to the aquarium next weekend and could not wait for our own little ones to see the dolphins. I am going to want to give Spirit and Maya a big squeeze when I see them. I am so happy though to hear that you are spending time with the mommies to make sure that they are handling things okay and are not left to be sad alone. My heart goes out to them. xxxooo
    Christina

  22. 24 Celeste July 1, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Our thoughts are with the staff maybe they can learn a little more about these great animals and this tragedy will benefit other creatures in the future

  23. 25 Betsy Owen July 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    We are deeply saddened to hear this news. The entire dolphin family must be feeling this loss and we pray for their grief to pass quickly. As a new mother I can only imagine how hard this is for both dolphin mommies, it is truly heartbreaking. Thank you to all the dolphin care-givers, your dedication and hard work is so important to all of us. Keeping you all in our hearts

  24. 26 Jane Pier July 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I am terribly saddened to hear about the dolphin calves passing. My husband and I were just there on June 5th, but unfortunately the dolphin presentation was booked. I am a dolphin lover and was disappointed but understood and got to see them from the dolphin observation although the calves were not with them. I am sorry for your loss and hope you will continue with your education of these endearing creatures. When will you know what caused their passing?

  25. 27 elizabeth July 11, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    sorry for ur lost, when will u know the diagnoses of the baby’s death


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