16 July 2013

Bottlenose dolphin gives birth at Subic marine park

A bottlenose dolphin at the Ocean Adventure marine park here has given birth to a healthy calf recently, reportedly the first live birth of such marine mammal in “human care” in the Philippines.

The baby dolphin was born on July 6 to Vi, an 11-year-old first- time mother, with a little help from a marine-mammal veterinarian who induced true labor.

The calf measured less than a meter long and weighed about 12 kilos at birth, said Timothy Desmond, chairman and CEO of the Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc., operator of the marine park.

“Mother and calf are doing just fine,” Desmond said in a statement on Sunday. “From the moment of birth, Vi has been a great mom. She’s done everything right!”

Vi’s pregnancy was discovered in February during a routine ultrasound, Desmond said. Following this, the park built a special birthing pen and nursing lagoon, installed cameras and observation deck to enhance monitoring, while Vi herself trained with a special dolphin “puppet” to encourage nursing behavior.

Throughout her 12-month pregnancy, Vi continued to participate in the park’s training sessions and programs, but spent the nights in the birthing facility with her best friend dolphin Nala, park officials said.

Like her pregnant human counterparts, Vi was also encouraged to continue light exercises in the last three months under the observation of animal experts. When the birth finally neared, Ocean Adventure summoned world-renowned marine veterinarian Dr. Robert Braun to lead final preparations for the delivery.

But the birth of the first baby dolphin here was “not without drama,” Desmond said.

In the afternoon of July 3, a Wednesday, Ocean Adventure went into full alert as Vi showed signs of labor, he said.

However, even as intermittent contractions were observed in the next two days, there was no hard labor seen. This led Dr. Braun, in consultation with other international marine mammal experts, to decide to intervene, said Desmond.

On July 6, after Ocean Adventure trainers gained Vi’s voluntary cooperation with a critical ultrasound exam that confirmed the baby was alive, Braun administered the human drug, Oxytocin, to induce labor.

At 5:30 p.m. on July 6, Vi went into true labor and within 30 minutes, a tiny tail emerged. After 90 minutes, Vi delivered the healthy baby calf.

Vi then pushed the baby to the surface for its first breath, then took it for progressively longer and deeper swims underwater to help increase its lung capacity.

“Within five hours, the baby was nursing, an impressive short timeframe for most newborn dolphins,” Desmond said.

Still, baby dolphins are very vulnerable, said Carlo Magno, director of Ocean Adventure’s animal-care department.

Magno said that every scratch on the baby’s delicate skin is a potentially lethal source of infection until its immune system fully develops. Meanwhile, it must swim continually to stay afloat with a soft tail that takes hours to become rigid enough for efficient swimming.

As of now, the park’s animal experts work around the clock to assure optimal care for mother and baby. Trained volunteers also record the baby’s swimming patterns, respiration rates, and nursing bouts.

Desmond said the baby dolphin will still be at risk for the first 30 days.

“However, with a wonderful mother like Vi, we have high hopes that this little guy will survive. We’ll continue doing everything humanly possible to insure a successful outcome,” he said. (Henry EmpeƱo, Business Mirror)

Vi, the new mother dolphin, swims on July 12, with her seven-day-old calf at the Ocean Adventure marine park in the Subic Bay Freeport. (Photo courtesy of ocean adventure)