It's a girl! (They think.)
The Minnesota Zoo's 23-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, Allie, gave birth to a healthy calf late Saturday night. Staff members think it's female but won't be sure until they can get a closer look.
The calf is welcome happy news for the Apple Valley zoo's dolphin program, which has suffered its share of heartbreak in the past few years. Allie's last pregnancy ended when she delivered a stillborn calf in March 2009. Three dolphins, including 7-month-old calf Harley, died in 2006.
The latest birth brings the dolphin pod back to four members. April, 42, is Allie's mother. Semo, 45, is the calf's father. He is believed to be one of the oldest reproducing male dolphins in human care. "It's very exciting for our dolphin program," marine mammal supervisor Diane Fusco said. "It's going to be fun to watch how the interactions develop. There's nothing like a young animal to stir things up."
Zoo staff noticed Allie was close to delivering on Friday after she refused food. The calf was born after about two hours of labor at 10:51 p.m. Saturday. The calf immediately swam to the surface for its first breath. Allie followed, and the baby has been swimming by her side ever since, Fusco said. "Allie and the calf are taking synchronized breaths and the calf is being maneuvered by Allie so it is not wandering away from her," she said. The baby, which has not yet been named, weighs about 30 pounds and is 2 to 3 feet long. It's Allie's second calf and Semo's fourth.
Allie and the calf are bonding nicely, Fusco said, and successful nursing took place within the first few hours. Exhausted but elated staff members will continue to monitor the pair around the clock for the next few weeks. Fusco, reached Sunday by phone, said she'd caught a quick nap in her car, but had been on duty since the birth. Semo has been separated from the other dolphins until maternal bonding can be established. "Male dolphins don't have any paternal investment in the calf," Fusco said. "If you put them together too early, he's more interested in the females. You might risk some trauma or aggression."
The calf is darker in color than Allie and has small whiskers on its nose that will soon disappear. Dolphin stadium was closed Sunday to allow the calf to be nurtured, but Fusco said it would reopen in the next few days. During that time, the mother/calf pair will remain in a back pool, but visitors might be able to catch a glimpse of the baby when it surfaces for a breath. If all goes well, the pair will be on exhibit in the fall.