Posts Tagged 'dolphin births'

Becoming dolphin moms

In the spring of 2001, the National Aquarium welcomed two dolphin calves into our dolphin family. Both Maya and Spirit were raised here at the Aquarium by their mothers, and have grown to become very strong female dolphins! They are now entering into the next phase of life: motherhood.

Maya and Spirit both became pregnant last year, and through medical examinations it was determined they would give birth in spring 2011, exactly 10 years after they were born.

Dolphin pregnancies and births are always exciting, but also require a great deal of work from our staff and volunteers. For the last year, our dolphin trainers, animal health staff, and volunteers have been working around the clock to ensure the best possible outcomes for the mothers and calves.

Regular ultrasound exams and daily observations became part of the staff’s daily routine. You may be wondering… how exactly did our animal health staff perform ultrasounds on animals that weigh more than 300 pounds? Well, both females are trained to come to the edge of the pool, position themselves on their sides, and remain stable and calm while the veterinarian performs the examination. This helped the staff monitor the development of the calves.

Vet exam

In the weeks leading up to the impending births, a team of staff and volunteers implemented a 24-hour watch to monitor the mothers for signs of labor and keep a close watch on their behaviors and overall health.

Now, after months of prenatal care by a dedicated team of vets, trainers, and volunteers, Maya and Spirit are swimming alongside their new calves!

On April 14, Spirit gave birth to a female calf…

Spirit and her calf

Spirit and her calf

and Maya followed two weeks later, with an April 27 delivery of a male calf.

Maya and Her Calf

Maya and her calf

It is certainly an exciting time in the dolphin pools, but our work does not stop here. Dolphin calves are extremely fragile in their first months of life, and even though their survival ultimately depends on their mothers’ care, we do everything we can to provide the right habitat conditions, nutritional needs, and care for the mothers and their calves.

Upon birth, calves must immediately learn how to breathe, swim, and nurse from their mothers. A quiet environment gives the moms and calves the best opportunity to bond in this way, so the amphitheater closed for a short time immediately following births.

Swimming Together

Swimming together as a group

In the past, we’ve been able to resume the dolphin shows in the front exhibit pool just a week or two after a dolphin birth, with moms and calves continuing to bond in the back pools. But because first-time mothers Maya and Spirit are still adjusting to their new roles, we have had to make changes to our normal dolphin presentation.

We are currently inviting visitors in for a quieter experience, but one that is equally fascinating! Through June 7, visitors who purchase the Dolphin Access Package will get an interactive, close-up experience that includes a meet and greet with our trainers, a rare opportunity to observe a dolphin training session, and a first look at a behind-the-scenes video of the new calves. And visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of the calves swimming alongside their mothers in the back pools when they surface to breathe.

As marine mammal trainers and veterinarians become more and more confident that the moms have had ample time to bond with their calves, we will gradually introduce more programming into the dolphin experience.

Spirit's Calf at 1 Month

Spirit's calf is becoming more curious and independent every day!

Staff and volunteers continue to monitor the mothers’ and calves’ behaviors closely. We use PalmPilots to track behavior observations and changes to eating patterns.

We thank you for joining us in celebrating the births! You can read more about our new moms and calves and watch a video on The Baltimore Sun.

Inside the dolphin pit

From Kerry Martens, Dolphin Trainer

Earlier this week we announced the pregnancy of Jade, one of our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. This is a very exciting but busy time for the marine mammal staff. About a month before the expected due date, our staff and a group of trained volunteers begin 24/7 monitoring of the pregnant female for signs of labor.

Around-the-clock observations of Jade began February 12 and will continue for an additional month after the calf is born.

Observations are conducted from “the pit,” located in the middle of our pools. After a short climb down a ladder, the area, with room for only two chairs, has windows looking into all three pools.  Being comfortable with small spaces is a must! 


Observers use hand-held palm pilots in order to record target behaviors as they see them. We look for a variety of things with Jade. We record which of the other animals she spends time with, signs of belly movement and, most importantly, arches and crunches actions. Arches and crunches are pronounced, deliberate stretches that increase in frequency the closer we get to birth.

Continue reading ‘Inside the dolphin pit’

Help name our dolphin calf

The presidential election has come and gone, but the National Aquarium still needs your vote! The newest addition to the dolphin colony is now 3 months old and we are calling on the public to choose her name. Aquarium trainers and voluteers have narrowed the choices to 5 names that relate to Maryland, and fit well with the young calf’s developing personality:momcalf-blog

Bayley – after her mother, Chesapeake, and the Bay
Calli – after Callinectes, the genus of the blue crab, and Cal Ripken
Charm – because she lives in Charm City
Hanna – after the Susquehanna River
Sassafras – after the Sassafras River

Through a partnership with WBAL-TV, you can vote for your choice on http://aqua.org/dolphins/, or by texting the letter “A” for Bayley, “B” for Calli, “C” for Charm, “D” for Hanna, or “E” for Sassafras to 88509. (standard text messaging rates apply)

Voting will close at 11:59 pm on November 20. The winning name will be announced on Saturday, November 22 during a live broadcast on WBAL-TV from the dolphin pools!

A tiny addition to the dolphin colony!

We are very excited to announce a new arrival at the National Aquarium!

At approximately 7 a.m. on Sunday, July 27 Chesapeake, a 16 year old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, gave birth to a female calf. At birth the calf was approximately 30 lbs and 2-3 feet long. Chesapeake is the daughter of Shiloh. This is Chesapeake’s third calf born at the National Aquarium.

The 5 day old calf appears to be in robust health, and the trainers are cautiously optimistic about her progress.   Dolphin calves are especially fragile and not easily handled during their first two to three months of life, so trainers leave raising the calf solely to the dolphin mom. In this case, however, Chesapeake is lucky enough to have two other female dolphins in the nursing pool who can assist her with motherly duties! Shiloh, grandmother to the calf, and Jade have both spent time with the calf.  Shiloh has even helped to nurse her. 

The new calf joins another youngster in the nursery pool. Foster is the youngest of the dolphin colony and will turn one year old in September. He appears curious about the new arrival, but is staying out of the way of the mom and calf for now.  Foster is spending a lot of time playing with toys, learning from the trainers and bonding with his mother, Jade. 

Below is a video of her first few moments of life at the Aquarium!

How many trainers does it take for a dolphin to give birth?

The marine mammal staff is busy preparing for Shiloh and Chesapeake to give birth!

We’ve mobilized a team of dedicated volunteers to assist the trainers with observations of the pregnant females and potential calves. In 2007, volunteers contributed over 1000 hours to watching the nursery group and last year’s new calf, Foster. 

These volunteers have been recruited through other areas of the aquarium and undergo additional training in order to observe the dolphin colony.  While rearing a calf is ultimately dependent on the mother, observations allow us to add more information into what researchers know about dolphin pregnancies and neonate calves. For example, in the past we have observed females in the group assuming a calf position on an expectant mother’s mammaries. Researchers believe that this may be a way to teach a new mother how to nurse a calf!

Additionally, we use observations to determine exactly when a female is going into labor. Surprisingly, there is limited published research on dolphin pregnancies. A previous research project at the National Aquarium in Baltimore did indicate that two behaviors, arching and crunching, may increase just prior to giving birth. So obviously, this is one of the behaviors that trainers and observers are looking for!

The Information technology department has worked alongside the marine mammal department to develop a recording program using Palm Pilots™. This program won an award when presented at the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Conference in 2001. This allows trainers and veterinarians to view collected information more efficiently.

Can you believe that dolphins do this in the wild without all the extra help?!


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