Minnesota Zoo awaits baby dolphin

Associated Press

APPLE VALLEY, Minn. -- Officials at the Minnesota Zoo are eagerly awaiting the birth of a baby dolphin.

Rio, the Zoo's 31-year old female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, is pregnant, and expected to give birth this month. She was quarantined to a back pool Aug. 7 to protect the calf after its birth. She and the calf won't rejoin the others until the youngster is at least a month old.

Rio was impregnated by Semo, the Zoo's 38-year old male dolphin. The pregnancy was discovered in December. A dolphin's pregnancy typically lasts 12 months and yields one calf. If the birth is successful, Semo will become the oldest dolphin in captivity to father a calf.

About two-thirds of calves born to dolphins younger than 15 years old die within three years; only 18 percent of calves born to dolphins older than 15 die that young. The Minnesota Zoo lost a calf in 1997, but Rio's experience as a mother -- this will be her third calf -- has officials optimistic.


The Zoo is taking every precaution. Rio is undergoing biweekly ultrasound tests to make sure the calf is properly positioned for a successful birth.

Recent ultrasounds worried officials because the calf was positioned to come out head-first. That would likely be catastrophic because dolphins are born under water and need to breathe oxygen shortly after their head emerges, so a baby born headfirst can drown.

Somehow, however, the calf repositioned itself to come out tail-first.

Upon the birth, the trainers will eagerly watch how the calf will change the dynamic among the other dolphins. Each of the zoo's dolphins has a distinct personality and a way of fitting into its small social environment, trainer Jenny Beem said.

Rio runs the show, Beem said. While Semo is more dominant, Rio commands respect with subtle leadership. She has had two other calves, both male. D.J. -- short for De Janeiro -- is 6 years old and still lives at the Zoo. Shadow, 10, is at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

D.J. is the youngest of the Minnesota Zoo's dolphins. Ayla, 9, is another female.

If the new calf is female, she will probably spend the rest of her life at the Minnesota Zoo. If the calf is male, he's likely to eventually move to another zoo or aquarium, though the Minnesota Zoo would still own him.

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