Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Deaf Dolphin gives birth to healthy calf

A stranded deaf Atlantic bottlenose dolphin delivered her calf Monday at a marine mammal rehabilitation center in the Florida Keys. The unnamed calf is approximately 42 inches long and weighs about 30 pounds, according to officials at the Marine Mammal Conservancy. "The calf looks great. It's swimming real well and breathing normally," said MMC president Robert LingenfelserThe calf's mother, Castaway, has been vocalizing to the calf and the baby has answered back, said Lingenfelser.But Lingenfelser said he is certain that Castaway cannot process the calf's return sounds."Castaway's vocalizations are not normal," Lingenfelser said. "She speaks in a monotone, similar to the way that people who cannot hear speak."Because Castaway can't hear, MMC officials installed a dolphin "chat line" of sorts, electronically connecting Castaway's habitat with a lagoon at Dolphins Plus, a research and interactive educational facility a few miles away. Underwater speakers and microphones were installed at both locations and connected via phone lines donated by AT&T Florida.Officials hope the calf will develop communications' skills by speaking to dolphins at Dolphins Plus when the system is fully turned on soon.Mother and calf are to remain at the Conservancy for at least six months before relocating to a more permanent facility. Castaway can't be released because a dolphin needs to hear to utilize echo localization, or dolphin sonar, to survive.The calf is not a candidate for release either, Lingenfesler said, because the first few months of a dolphin's development in the wild is the most critical time for it to learn about self-preservation.Castaway stranded off Vero Beach in November, but was initially deemed healthy enough for release after convalescing for more than two months at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. But instead of swimming offshore, she returned to the beach three times and was then transported to the Keys.

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