Neonatal Critical Care and Hand-Rearing of a Bottlenose Dolphin Calf (Tursiops truncatus)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2014
Jennifer E. Flower1, DVM; Jennifer N. Langan2,3, DVM, DACZM; Sathya Chinnadurai3, DVM, MS, DACZM, DACVAA; Benjamin N. Nevitt1, DVM; Rita Stacey3, MS; Michael J. Adkesson3, DVM, DACZM
1Illinois Zoological and Aquatic Animal Residency Program, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA; 2College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA; 3Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, IL, USA


Neonatal mortality is a recognized concern in cetaceans, both under professional care and in the wild.1-3 Traditionally, medical intervention for intensive neonatal care has been hampered by the aquatic environment, anatomic challenges, and physiologic adaptations. Advancements in cetacean medicine now allow for an enhanced standard of care and although underreported in the literature, some successful neonatal interventions exist. Here we describe care of a male, 13-kg, bottlenose dolphin calf (Tursiops truncatus) born to a primiparous dam after an uncomplicated labor. The calf was vibrant upon delivery but was immediately rejected and traumatized by the dam. Immediate intervention and restraint allowed for physical examination, blowhole suctioning, oxygen supplementation, blood analysis, wound treatments, antibiotic and fluid administration, weight and measurements, and ultrasonography. Colostrum and milk were collected from the dam under manual and voluntary restraint for 6 days. The calf was fed a combination of the dam’s milk and supplemental formula via a gastric tube (18 Fr, 16” red rubber) at hourly intervals for 3 months, at which time the frequency was gradually decreased. The calf’s caloric needs were assessed daily based on weight and utilized to calculate feedings. Intensive care was continued daily to monitor systemic health (blood sampling, topical wound care, daily weights, etc.). The calf was originally housed alone in a 3,800-gallon pool and later transitioned to a medical pool with visual and auditory access to 2.5 other dolphins. Presently at 6 months of age, the calf continues to thrive, with routine examination, ultrasound, radiography, gastroscopy, and blood sampling to monitor health.

Literature Cited

1.  Mann J, RC Connor, LM Barre, MR Heithaus. Female reproductive success in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.): life history, habitat, provisioning, and group-size effects. Behavioral Ecology. 2000;11:210–219.

2.  Sweeney JC, R Stone, M Campell, et al. Comparative survivability of Tursiops neonates from three U.S. institutions for the decades 1990–1999 and 2000–2009. Aquatic Mammals. 2010;36:248–261.

3.  Wells RS, MD Scott, AF Irvine. The social structure of free ranging bottlenose dolphins. In: Genoways H, ed. Current Mammalogy. Vol. 1. New York, NY: Plenum Press; 1987:247–305.


Speaker Information
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Jennifer E. Flower, DVM
Illinois Zoological and Aquatic Animal Residency Program
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL, USA

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