How Are Dolphin Babies Born?
As far as we know today, the birth of a dolphin in the wild has never been observed. All we know about the dolphin birth process has been learned by the observation of captive animals.
Dolphin babies are born after a long gestation period inside mothers which can range between 11 and 18 months. A dolphin baby is born in the water, “tail first”, although “head first” births have been observed.
Once her calf is born, the mother dolphin quickly snaps off the umbilical cord and pushes it to the surface for its first breath of air. Birth weight is about 20-25 pounds with a length of 2-3 feet.
At first, the dolphin baby is able to stay underwater for only 30 seconds at a time. Later, it will be able to hold its breath just a little longer than you can. Dolphins typically carry single calves and go through the same labor process as other mammals.
The dolphin mother-calf bond is so strong that, should the calf be still born, females have often been seen holding their dead calves at the surface of the water.
The calf soon learns to swim near its mother both to nurse and to “slip stream”, or remain in the low pressure area the mother creates as she swims (slightly above or below the mother and to one side). This conserves the calf’s energy required for rapid growth.
Slip streaming also allows the calf, yet without a layer of blubber to provide buoyancy, to swim in a controlled, upright manner.
Like all baby mammals, dolphins drink milk from their mothers. But dolphin babies drink while underwater. Their mothers squirt the milk into their mouths.
During the first 6 months of nursing they will gain one-half to three-quarters of a pound per day from the milk composed of colostrum (containing the mother’s passive antibodies to protect the newborn from early infection) and 40% fat. Mother dolphins nurse their babies for more than a year, until they learn to eat fish.