At the same time that we’re watching and cheering on beluga whale Mauyak’s new calf, we’re celebrating that Piquet’s calf turned 3 months old on Aug. 28! Compare the calf in the photo above, from earlier this month, with the photo below, taken when he was about a week old. Animals born into the cold ocean’s nursery have to grow up quickly if they are to survive in an unforgiving environment and evade predators. And Piquet’s calf sure is growing!
Ken Ramirez, our executive vp of animal care and training, estimates that the dolphin is now nearly 4 feet long—almost two-thirds mom’s length—and has filled out to 75 pounds—up from a birth size of about 3 feet long and 25 pounds. He’s added all that muscle, bone and, yes, blubber, solely on mom’s high-fat milk. (Makes me want to reconsider any more ice cream this summer.)
The animal health team is still estimating the calf’s dimensions because they haven’t needed to examine him. As long as a calf is doing well, our animal health team typically waits until it is between 3 and 6 months old to conduct the first wellness exam.
Piquet’s calf continues to mark daily, weekly and monthly milestones. Ken reports that the calf has been introduced to Tique, Kri and Katrl, Shedd’s other dolphins, establishing him as a member of the pod.
In another rite of passage, the calf has been assigned a shape—a blue square—that is his personal cue to swim to a specific place—a “station”—for feeding and training sessions. “Although he does not yet touch his shape, he comes and looks at it from a few inches away,” says Ken. The calf’s formal “Shedducation” has begun, too, with a trainer assigned to him for every training session.
Right now, the calf is more interested in fingers wiggled in the water than in neatly executed hand signals. “We wiggle our fingers to attract his interest,” says Ken. “We do it during the adult sessions to occupy him and to start teaching him to interact with us. He has been brave enough to rub against a trainer on several occasions.” But with the calf’s station right next to Piquet’s, this enthusiastic little mimic should learn the behaviors and cues quickly.
The calf has also made the transition from looking at toys placed in his pool to playing with them. “He seems to look forward to toy time now,” Ken says. The little dolphin’s current favorite plaything is a tether ball that is attached by a rope to the habitat floor so that it’s below the surface of the water. “He likes to swim over and bop it with his head,” Ken says.
His favorite playmate is still mom, who does a great job of keeping up with this bundle of energy. If you’re lucky, you’ll see them chasing each other. The calf gets so excited that he does little leaps out of the water called porpoising. He doesn’t quite clear the surface yet, but it’s fun to watch him try.
For most of August, the calf spent his mornings learning about the wide world outside of Secluded Bay: the Abbott Oceanarium’s other pools. Piquet, who glides from habitat to habitat, coaxed the calf into new waters, if only for a few seconds. Calves are instinctively wary of unfamiliar places, especially those requiring them to swim through an arch or short passage. So it’s been a slow process. Two weeks ago, the calf ventured into 2- million-gallon Whale Harbor. “He was not so independent out there,” says Ken. “He stayed very close to mom.” But by last Friday, the calf was comfortable enough that when he and Piquet were cued to leave before an aquatic show, mom complied but the calf stayed, making his show debut (with mom, who returned to join in the opening leaps).
The patient work by the trainers—and Piquet—was preparation for another rite of passage: graduating from Secluded Bay. The timing was perfect: That pool does double duty as the main beluga habitat and Shedd’s marine mammal nursery, and on Monday, Aug. 27, beluga Mauyak was back there—with her newborn calf.
Be sure to visit Piquet’s calf soon—before he blends seamlessly with the four adults. And enjoy updates on the beluga calf here, on our Facebook page and on our Twitter feed.
Karen Furnweger—web editor