Updated: December 10, 2013 9:09PM
Two of the most recent additions to the bottlenose dolphin exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo haven’t received their proper names yet.
Nonetheless, the male calves known thus far as S-13 and T-13, are the latest debutants to be feted by the Chicago Zoological Society, which runs the west suburban animal exhibition.
Churning through aquarium waters as TV crews and reporters looked-on Tuesday, the 6 and 8-week-old dolphins bring a dose of cheer to the zoo, which was reeling after a 1-week-old female calf died in August.
“Dolphin calves face many challenges: learning to swim efficiently, getting their blowhole to air, learning to hear — a baby dolphin has to do that in a quick succession,” zoo veterinarian Jennifer Langan said. “It’s like watching a (human) baby learn how to hold its head up, sit up and take its first steps.”
T-13 has, so far, adjusted well. Tuesday morning, the 8-week-old dolphin swam laps in tandem with Tapeko, his mother, while occasionally nursing from her.
But S-13, the firstborn calf of 11-year-old Spree, continues to struggle and has not been added to the public exhibit yet.
While zoo officials caution on projecting human traits onto animals too much, they say taking care of a newborn is a skill dolphins — like human mothers — have to learn.
S-13 was separated from Spree because the first-time mother did not dote on him enough. The 6-week-old calf is currently housed in a nursery pool, which is staffed around the clock with a marine mammal specialist.
“First time moms are not always prepared for their first born and Spree wasn’t showing the appropriate maternal care,” Langan said while S-13 whipped laps in the nursery pool.
Still, there are many positive signs. The dolphin’s weight has doubled, and he has learned to see and breathe. But S-13 has yet to develop a full range of motor skills, and has not yet communicated with other dolphins by making sonar-like noises inaudible to the human ear.
Those developments will hopefully come in the ensuing weeks.
Perhaps more importantly, the young dolphin, which has thus far subsisted on a high-fat formula, must also learn to eat solid food.
“Everyone in the zoo family is pulling for the little guy,” said Rita Stacey, the zoo’s marine mammal curator.
S-13 may have a unique advantage, like all dolphins in the exhibit, that a calf in the wild lacks.
“They have a healthcare plan,” Stacey said.