Piquet’s calf is 1 month old today! And what a big boy he is becoming. He and mom have hit all the milestones for a Pacific white-sided dolphin calf’s first month, and everyone at Shedd is absolutely tickled at his progress.
The calf’s fetal folds—those wrinkles in his sides from being curled inside his mom—have filled out as he’s put on weight. He continues to nurse about every 30 minutes, but he has become so adept at chugging his full portions of milk that he only nurses for a total of eight minutes a day, down from 24 minutes when he was just learning to nurse. And as every kid who has ever rushed through dinner knows, that leaves more time for play!
The calf and Piquet play tag, taking turns chasing each other. The little dolphin also spends about a third of his day away from mom, exploring, swimming and practicing all the cool moves he sees mom do, like barrel rolls, headstands and the ultimate in orientation control, swimming upside down.
Ken Ramirez, our executive vice president of animal care and training, explains that the adult dolphins swim upside down as much as they swim right side up. They live in a truly three-dimensional world, unaffected by the tug of gravity. The ability to swim in either orientation keeps them on top of what’s going on around them and always aware of approaching prey or predators.
“But swimming upside down is an acquired skill,” says Ken. “A week ago the calf couldn’t do it very well, and it was comical to watch him trying to mimic mom. But now he’s gotten quite good at it.”
The calf is also comfortable swimming with mom between Secluded Bay, where he was born on May 28, and the adjacent medical pool. As a sign of his increasing independence, the calf will now cruise in and out of the med pool on his own. While he’s discovering why this is such a popular place among the other dolphins and the belugas—it doubles as a play area, complete with pool toys—the animal care staff can relax knowing that now he’ll swim in there voluntarily for his first exam or any other medical need.
The calf has a signature vocalization—kind of like a sonic calling card—and he and mom talk to each other a lot. While Secluded Bay is closed to the public, the observers can hear his whistles, but they can also see them as streams of fine bubbles from his blowhole. (As dolphins and whales get older, they learn to vocalize without letting air escape from their blowholes, and already some of the calf’s conversations can be heard without being seen.)
The calf has also met another adult female dolphin, Katrl. Says Ken, “It’s been good for the calf to get exposure to another female, and it’s been beneficial for Piquet, too, to have some adult company.” While Katrl hasn’t shown much interest in the calf, he has interacted with her on a number of occasions. “He even paired up with her by accident, thinking he was swimming with mom,” Ken relates. “Piquet, Katrl and the calf all startled when they realized he was with the wrong animal!”
In the next few weeks, the calf will meet the other dolphins as well as be introduced to other pools.
Ken still cautions that the calf “is not out of the woods yet.” But, he adds, “When we reach the one-month mark, most of the really high-risk things have come to pass. He still has several milestones to achieve, but he has sailed through the critical ones—bonding with mom, learning to nurse, putting on weight, gaining skills.
“There are still a lot of ways a calf can get into trouble, so we will be very vigilant and continue our 24-hour monitoring until he’s 6 months old.”
Have you had a chance to visit Piquet’s calf? Opportunities for special small-group viewings in the company of a marine mammal trainer continue through July 1. Your “baby shower” gift of a $20 donation to Shedd’s annual fund supports the superior care we give to Piquet’s calf, and to all the animals at Shedd Aquarium.
Karen Furnweger, web editor