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.

At the beginning of the year, we recruited and trained more than 50 volunteers to assist with the constant monitoring.  This group is made up of volunteers and staff members from other areas of the Aquarium. Volunteers sign up for three-hour shifts each week, with some dedicated observers picking up two or more shifts weekly! They are all excited to be part of this unique experience and we are so lucky to have the help.

Trainers are also here around the clock. When 24/7 observations begin, we add an evening shift of 3 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. and an overnight shift  of 11:30 p.m. – 8 a.m. We are there to oversee the volunteer observers, watch Jade if no volunteers are present, and enter in all the data collected by volunteers during the day. If Jade should go into labor during our shift, our most important job is to watch and monitor the mother and the calf. We rarely intervene during labor. We record information such as first time flukes are seen (dolphins are born tail, not head first), when the calf takes its first breath and the first time it nurses.
From a trainer’s perspective, observations are a great way to get an idea of the animal’s behavior when we’re not working with them.  We have seen some pretty cool things including Jade “nursing” from Shiloh. Dolphins learn to be good mothers by watching and mimicking others around them. Could Shiloh, one of our most experienced moms, be teaching Jade what to do once the baby comes? Maybe!

Here is a quick look at Jade from the pit!


11 Responses to “Inside the dolphin pit”

  1. 1 Heather J. February 26, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Wow, that is so exciting! We were just at the Aquarium today and my son was convinced that there was a person in “the pit” after the dolphin show.

  2. 2 Lynn February 28, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    It is so awesome that Jade is having her second calf, she looks great!!!!

  3. 3 Jason Blackburn March 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I enjoyed reading this, as I did my Master’s research on crunching and arching behaviors of pregnant Bottlenose dolphins at the NAIB back in 2001. Fond memories!

  4. 4 Jen March 4, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Just wondering if the birth will be videotaped and downloaded on the aquarium website? That would be awesome and educational to watch!

  5. 6 phyllis March 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm


  6. 7 Pinky Sammet March 5, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Wow, it looks like it was yesterday that little Foster was born! I’m so excited about one more birth…

  7. 9 te'a brown March 8, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    awww i wish i could be there when jade has her baby aww that just so cute

  8. 10 Heidi Marsden March 9, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Amazing to see this vid. Great TLC from you guys… =]

  9. 11 Flora March 12, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Oh my gosh, that is so amazing. I am an aspiring marine biologist in ninth grade, and it pleases the heart to see a healthy pregnant dolphin. And such a cute one, too!!

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