Brookfield Zoo, managed by the Chicago Zoological Society, welcomed a newborn male dolphin calf on October 16. The calf, born to 31-year-old mother Tapeko, is approximately 40 pounds (18 kg) and 3.5 feet long (107 cm). Mother and calf are currently off exhibit, and the zoo’s dolphin presentations have been temporarily canceled to allow Tapeko and her calf time to bond and get acquainted with the other dolphins in the group.
Following the birth, it is important for the calf to demonstrate several key milestones, including nursing and slipstreaming, which is when the calf rests in the hydrodynamic wake made behind the mother as she swims. This allows the mother to use her own energy to help the calf glide behind her. Marine mammal and veterinary staff have observed the new calf displaying these behaviors and, encouraged by what they have seen so far, are cautiously optimistic that the little male is on the right track.
“We know that the first 30 days are extremely critical in the calf’s life,” said Rita Stacey, marine mammal curator for the Chicago Zoological Society. This time frame accounts for the largest rate of loss to dolphin populations both in the wild and under professional care, as compared to any other demographic age group. Beyond the critical first 30 days, the first year is also filled with challenges and milestones the calf must reach.
The little one is well cared-for. Tapeko is an experienced mother, having successfully reared four calves, one of which was her grandson as well as her daughters Allison, 7, and Noelani, 9, who are both members of the dolphin group living at Brookfield Zoo.
“This is an important time for our breeding group of females,” added Stacey. “As an experienced mom, Tapeko is able to demonstrate to the younger females how to care for a newborn calf.” This is especially timely as Spree, 11, is expected to give birth to her first calf later this fall.