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Shedd's dolphin calf begins nursing

June 1, 2012 10:33:17 AM PDT
Less than 24 hours after its birth, Shedd Aquarium's Pacific white-sided dolphin calf began nursing -- a critical milestone for the newborn's successful development.

Shedd's animal care and animal health teams reported that the calf is nursing regularly, averaging about a minute every hour, which is an appropriate amount for a growing dolphin. The nutrient-rich milk from mother Piquet is loaded with fat that help the calf gain weight.

Born on Memorial Day, the calf has since surpassed many other important milestones, including bonding with mom and learning to slip-stream, a technique where the calf saves energy by swimming next to Piquet in her wake.

"It's been very exciting the past few days as our animal care team has seen a number of firsts for the calf," said Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Training. "The calf started demonstrating early signs of important learning behavior, such as mimicry and after Piquet vocalized, we heard a definitive vocalization from the calf. Although we're happy to see this progression, we remain extremely cautious as we continue to keep a close eye on both mom and calf's development during the critical first weeks."

Both Piquet and her calf are progressing well. As a result of successful nursing, Piquet's diet has increased. Shedd's team of animal health experts continues 24-hour observation, allowing the pair to bond naturally.

"Piquet is a wonderfully attentive mom, so we have not needed to provide hands-on care, which would allow us to confirm the calf's gender," explained Caryn Poll, DVM, section chief of medicine at Shedd.

According to Dr. Poll, it is difficult to identify gender in dolphin calves without performing a routine physical. Based on visual observations, Shedd estimates that the calf is 3 ft. long and weighs about 25 lbs.

Piquet and her calf will remain off exhibit for a few more weeks, as Shedd animal care experts continue to provide around-the-clock observation and care for both dolphins.

For the latest updates on the calf, visit Shedd's website at sheddaquarium.org, or follow the calf's progress on Shedd's Facebook page and Twitter account.

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