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

Published July 10, 2008

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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