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Becoming dolphin moms

Published June 03, 2011

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