Watching for the first breath seemed like forever, but after a normal, tail-first delivery, a healthy female dolphin was born at the National Aquarium in Baltimore — taking its first breath after only five seconds of life.
The Atlantic bottlenose calf was born Sunday morning to 16-year-old Chesapeake. The new calf's grandmother, 29-year-old Shiloh, gave birth to a stillborn calf at the aquarium earlier this month.
Allison Ginsburg-Kimmey, the aquarium's manager of dolphin training, got a call at 5:45 a.m. to come to the dolphin center to watch the birth, along with 12 trainers, two veterinarians and two volunteers.
"Once they take the first couple of breaths, there's lots of hugs," she said. "We get excited thinking about the prospect of the training and the bonding we'll get to have."
The new calf, which measures two to three feet in length and weighs about 30 pounds, is nursing regularly, bonding with its mother and gaining weight. Aquarium staff members are "cautiously optimistic" about its survival, Ginsburg-Kimmey said. One-third of all dolphin calves do not survive the first year.
Dolphins have given birth nine times at the aquarium, with three calves dying before their first birthday.
Chesapeake, the first calf born at the aquarium, has given birth to two calves, including one that died in 2004. Her care will primarily determine whether the new calf lives, Ginsburg-Kimmey said. But she has help: Shiloh is helping to nurse the calf.
The aquarium plans to name the new calf in the coming months, using input from the public.