Mother Dolphins and Their Calves

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This is a partial re-post of a previous Mother’s Day post, with some added video and a comparison between the captive and wild orcas.

Like us in so many ways, new dolphin moms face sleep deprivation and babies that scream or babble. The young wild dolphins need to be taught how to communicate and learn the intricacies of their culture, while the young dolphins in captivity have to learn to adapt. Here are some insights into the mother/young bond of dolphins:

Although scientists don’t entirely know why the death rate is so high for baby dolphins, we do know that the environment into which they are born can be harsh. Humans swaddle our babies in blankets and crank up the thermostats to keep them warm – orca babies (orcas are actually dolphins) on the other hand go from a cozy 97.5 degree environment to 45 – 55 degree water in seconds, temperatures that adult humans can survive for about two to four hours.
A calf born in captivity will swim continuously, and scientists speculate that this is because the babies have thinner blubber and therefore need to generate body heat by moving in order to keep warm. They are also less buoyant and need to surface to breathe more often than their mothers. The Center for Whale Research confirms that the Southern Resident orcas are rarely motionless, even during rest periods.
And just as our babies first babble, then begin to shape words and sentences, orca calves need to learn to communicate with their families. Scientists at SeaWorld report that orca calves can vocalize soon following birth, and characterize the sounds the babies make as “loud and high pitched, resembling screams”. After about two months the babies begin to make sounds like their moms, and will continue to add to their vocal repertoire as they get older.
Research shows that mother dolphins and orcas in captivity show a significant change in sleep pattern for weeks or months following the birth of their calves, no surprise there when you think about having to keep up with the babies!
The wild orcas may have an edge over their captive counterparts however, in that they have an extended network of family to help out, and the older siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are all known to babysit and entertain the calves and thereby giving the mother whale a chance to feed and maybe catch a nap. Wild orca family:


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