Oh, boy, it’s a boy!
After days of scrutiny, with observers practically pressing their noses against the underwater viewing windows of Secluded Bay as the nursing calf swam past upside down, and photographers trying to snap photos of its diminutive underside, members of the marine mammal and animal health teams arrived at consensus on the calf’s gender.
Even with monitors watching and recording the little dolphin’s every move 24 hours a day, it was difficult to confirm his sex because the differences between males and females are mainly internal. (Remember that even mom’s mammary glands are recessed in her abdomen.) It’s a case of counting urogenital and gastrointestinal tract openings: Boys have two, girls combine them in one. On a fast-moving 30-pound body (yes, he’s gained about 5 pounds since his birth on the night of May 28), that’s a subtle distinction. Because Shedd’s veterinarians have not needed to handle the calf, they and the trainers relied on repeat observations before announcing the calf’s gender.
This birth brings to three the number of males among fewer than 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins in North American aquariums and zoos. That includes the calf’s father, Lii (LEE-ee) at Miami Seaquarium, and a subadult at Sea World San Antonio. The extreme minority of males in this population has hindered the cooperative breeding program, both in terms of opportunities and genetic diversity. As Piquet’s firstborn, this little calf has a unique genetic makeup that is a welcome addition to the gene pool.
For now, though, we’re just delighted that he’s eating, growing, learning, passing his milestones and apparently having the best time in the world. And to give him the best chance at success, he and his mom will remain off exhibit in Secluded Bay for a few more weeks. But we’ll keep you updated on his progress here and on our Facebook page and Twitter account.
Karen Furnweger, web editor