Piquet, her calf and Shedd’s cadre of animal care and animal health experts have had a busy day. Happily, most of the work on the part of Shedd’s staffers since 10:34 p.m. Monday, when the calf was born, has been watching the large and small dolphins swim and bond.
While around-the-clock monitoring involves making a minute-by-minute record of mom and calf’s behaviors, it’s still a thrill and a joy for the observers.
Both mother and calf continue to appear to be doing well. Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training, notes that the Shedd staff is “cautiously optimistic.” He explains, “We know that female Pacific white-sided dolphins in the wild and in aquariums and zoos commonly lose their first calf during pregnancy or during its first year of life.”
Still, he is beaming that Piquet (pee-KEHT), a first-time mom, had a smooth delivery and that the strong calf made a beeline to the surface for its first breath, then began to swim and bond with its mom. Ken hopes to tick off more critical milestones—specifically nursing and visible weight gain—in the next few days. The calf is already nuzzling Piquet’s sides in search of her mammary glands.
Ken estimates that the calf is about 3 feet long and weighs approximately 25 pounds—mid-range for this species. (Piquet is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds—the smallest of Shedd’s four females.) He’ll know that it’s gaining weight when its fetal folds—small indentations in the calf’s sides indicating how it was curled in its mother’s womb—start to fill out.
A visual call on its gender is not as easy. Ken says that even if the calf swims close to the underwater viewing windows, the difference between male and female is not so pronounced that he could make a confident identification from a quick glance. So whether we have a girl or a boy may not be known until the calf’s first exam, which, as long as both dolphins are doing well, does not need to be done right away. Another feature you won’t see unless you are practically nose to snout with the calf is a mustache-like line of fine brown hairs on its upper rostrum. While cetaceans jettisoned hair for slick, hydrodynamic skin, newborns still have a trace of that signature mammalian trait, at least for a few weeks.
Ken is also pleased that Piquet is an attentive mother. She carefully guides the little dolphin around Secluded Bay, where the birth took place. The calf keeps close to her side and dorsal fin, slipstreaming—an energy-saving way to swim. Piquet keeps pace with its speed, reflexively slowing or speeding up. They break the surface of the water as one to breathe.
Secluded Bay is temporarily closed to the public so that Piquet and her calf can bond, nurse and achieve those other essential milestones in real seclusion, as well as so that the animal care team can observe them without interruption. (The rest of the Abbott Oceanarium is open and accessible.) But you can see photos and video of the calf here and get updates on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Karen Furnweger, web editor