Photo in the News: Deaf Dolphin's "Chat Line" Baby Dies

Picture of deaf dolphin and calf
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Update, June 19, 2007—At five days old, the calf born to deaf dolphin Castaway died of breathing complications on June 15 at the Florida's Marine Mammal Conservancy (MMC). The male calf's body was sent to a National Marine Fisheries laboratory for a necropsy, though the cause of death could not be determined.

Veterinarians stayed through the night to care for the calf after noticing it had difficulty swimming and breathing. "Everything was done that could have been done," MMC President Robert Lingenfelser said.

Despite the loss, a marine mammal researcher said, the calf's first sounds, recorded two seconds after his birth, could provide new information on dolphin communication. Jack Kassewitz of speakdolphin.com said this is the first time a newborn's sounds have been recorded in isolation.

June 13, 2007—Castaway, a deaf Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, swims with her newborn male calf Monday at the Marine Mammal Conservancy (MMC) in Key Largo, Florida.

The as-yet-unnamed calf—which is approximately 42 inches long (107 centimeters) and weighs about 30 pounds (14 kilograms)—is breathing and swimming normally, according to the Associated Press.

Researchers at MMC had worried that Castaway's deafness would prevent her from teaching her calf critical survival and communication skills. So while the calf was still in the womb, a "chat line" was set up to pipe in "conversations" from dolphins at a nearby research facility in hopes that the young dolphin would learn from her hearing neighbors.

Parent-offspring communication is on track so far: The mother and calf have been vocalizing back and forth. But MMC President Robert Lingenfelser said he doubts that Castaway is able to process her calf's sounds.

"Castaway's vocalizations are not normal. She speaks in a monotone, similar to the way that people who cannot hear speak," Lingenfelser told AP.

MMC officials also announced yesterday that the calf may be having trouble nursing, so aides are bottle-feeding the newborn dolphin.

Because she is unable to hear, Castaway is keeping near-constant eye contact with her baby. "Unfortunately, her mammary glands are a foot and a half [45 centimeters] south of her dorsal fin, and that's out of her visual range," said Art Cooper, MMC's chief executive officer, in a statement.

Due to Castaway's deafness and the calf's developmental delays, neither is a candidate for release in the wild. The pair will remain at MMC for six months before moving to a permanent home.

—Cori Sue Morris

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