Calf and motherShedd’s little Pacific white-sided dolphin calf, Sagu (SAH-goo), has been racking up achievements, like learning to tail walk, spin and leap in formation with the adults, but today he hits his most impressive milestone: his first birthday.

At upwards of 115 pounds, he’s still noticeably smaller than mom Piquet and the two other female dolphins, Tique and Katrl. But he’s certainly pulling his own weight in the aquatic shows. Watch for this little dynamo doing the above behaviors plus lobtails, porpoising and vocalizations, along with the important husbandry and medical behaviors with trainers that are so critical to providing him with the best care possible.

Maris Muzzy, senior trainer and manager of cetaceans, says, “We believe Sagu is enjoying his new training because he will sometimes practice behaviors on his own, when trainers aren’t around.”

His enthusiasm seems to be limitless. Maris adds, “He is also learning to station in the center of the pool with a trainer as part of our water-work section in the shows.” That’s when you’ll see a trainer swimming and interacting with one of the dolphins. “Sometimes when he hears the target slap [on the water to call over a dolphin], he gets so excited that he just leaves his station with a trainer and joins the other dolphin in the spotlight in the center of the pool.”

Because Sagu is still learning—and growing—he hasn’t developed the same muscular control as the adults have. Sometimes he’ll accidentally run into one of the females or, during leaps with the other dolphins, he’ll get wobbly mid-air. The adults don’t seem to be bothered by his juvenile antics. “He is getting much better and stronger with practice,” says Maris, “and we see him porpoising alongside the females outside of session times. His biggest challenge right now seems to be whether to face forward, toward the guests, with the adults or face backward, toward the lake.”

He is still bonded with Piquet, pairing up with her to nurse after training sessions and usually staying by her side during sleep or rest. And at the underwater viewing windows in Polar Play Zone, you can watch mom and calf zooming around side by side with the tight precision of two Blue Angels pilots. But he also swims with the other dolphins, especially Tique. “We’re not sure if that’s his choice or if Tique is just more interested in Sagu than Katrl is,” says Maris.

While Sagu is still nursing, he’s also downing about 8 pounds of herring and capelin every day. At somewhere between 1½ and 2 years, the mother-calf bond will loosen. Says Maris, “At that age, beluga and bottlenose dolphin juvenile males typically leave the maternal group to form pair bonds with other juvenile males. But there is so much we don’t yet know about Pacific white-sided dolphins, because it’s difficult to track and identify individuals in the wild. We are working with other zoological facilities around the world to learn more about this species’ breeding and social behaviors.”

Sagu enjoys socializing with divers in the water, “a good sign that he trusts us,” Maris says. “He is quickly learning that he can get nice massages from us if he swims calmly alongside us, rather than zooming around.

“The first few times that he allowed us to rub his side,” she continues, “he seemed startled by the touch and zipped away. Even though he had been touching us with his rostrum for months as part the basic hand target-training behavior, it apparently was a whole new, and surprising, sensation having us touch his side.

“But he must have liked it, because he circled back for more! Now he slows down, presents his side and makes eye contact with us as if to say, ‘Rubdown, please.’ ”

While a public celebration isn’t planned, Maris assures that “Sagu will get lots of special treats, toys and games from the trainers on his birthday!”

Be sure to visit Sagu soon!

Karen Furnweger, web editor