On December 23, the only known living hybrid of a false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, or wholphin (sometimes spelled wolphin) -- gave birth to a female calf. The baby, who has yet to be named, is one-fourth whale and three-fourths dolphin.
The first few months of life of most marine mammals are the most critical ones, so the park waited to announce the birth and the current status of the baby wholphin.
The successful birth of the baby was enthusiastically celebrated by the staff at Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery.
"We are extremely excited about the birth of the baby wholphin," said Dr. Renato Lenz. "Mother and calf are doing very well, and we are monitoring them very closely to ensure the best care for them."
The training and veterinary staff at Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery has spent long hours at the park over the first few months of the calf's life collecting a tremendous amount of data and ensuring that mom and calf were provided with the best care possible.
"Over the first 100 days of life of this calf, we had invested more than 2,400 hours of trainers and veterinary time to ensure the best care for mom and baby wholphin," Dr. Lenzi said.
Very energetic and animated, the baby wholphin is interacting well with her mother and her trainers. Currently, the staff at Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery interacts in and out of the water with both Kekaimalu and her calf daily as part of routine husbandry and training sessions. Early in-water interaction with the calf is part of Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery's training program, to ensure a high level of trust between calf, mother and trainers, as well as early conditioning for voluntary medical behaviors. Both wholphins enjoy the time they spend with their trainers, and the calf is already taking fish from their hands to play with it. Soon, she will probably start swallowing the fish. At this time, the calf is still relying fully on her mother's milk. All nursing takes place underwater, and, typically, nursing will continue until the calf is 18-24 months old.
Even early on in her infancy stages, the baby wholphin displays notable characteristics that she has inherited from both her false killer whale and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin lineage. She is a very robust calf for her age, and her size is more comparable to the size of a 1-year-old bottlenose dolphin. The calf coloration is a perfect blend between the light gray of the bottlenose dolphin and the black of the false killer whale. Kekaimalu's calf has shown a lot of independence from her mom, and she has proven to be a very inquisitive individual.
The calf's nursing habits mirror those of other dolphin calves. She nurses intermittently throughout the day and night, with all nursing taking place underwater. Typically, nursing will continue for about 3-9 months before the calf will begin sampling some of her mother's food, and at 1-2 years of age, the calf will be completely weaned from its mother.
"From a scientific viewpoint, it's interesting for us to observe the anatomical and behavioral development of this baby and how much she has inherited from the two different species that she carries in her genes," Dr. Lenzi said. "As the only living product of a wholphin, we are given a special and unique scientific and educational opportunity."
In addition, observation of Kekaimalu's motherly behavior has yielded interesting results. One interesting note on Kekaimalu's food intake is that, prior to her pregnancy, she was fed approximately 30-35 pounds of a mixture of capelin, herring and squid a day. While pregnant, that increased to nearly 50 pounds per day. Now that she's nursing, the wolphin's daily food intake has reached at times 80 pounds per day, to sustain the increased energy demands of nourishing her baby.
"Kekaimalu loves interacting with the trainers and our guests in the different interactive programs," Dr. Lenzi said. "She enjoys the gentle touch from our guests and always displays lots of energetic behaviors when playing with them. We see a lot of those same energetic behaviors in her baby wholphin, who is transfixed to the trainers when they are in the water with her."
Visit Kekaimalu and her baby at Sea Life Park Hawaii by Dolphin Discovery, located on the island of Oahu fifteen miles from Waikiki.