The staff and dolphin pod at Dolphin Research Center celebrated an addition to its animal family for the third time in 2022, when 15-year-old dolphin Cayo gave birth to a female calf on Nov. 3.

Early on Thursday morning, staff noticed signs that the expectant mother was in labor, and after a day of monitoring, they observed the calf’s tail flukes beginning to emerge from her body around 5:30 p.m. – typical, as baby dolphins are born tail-first.

Though Cayo is a first-time mother and the early weeks and months of the calf’s life are still a critical and guarded time period, staff say both mom and baby are thriving, with Cayo keeping her calf close by and steering her around the lagoon.

“Cayo has shown all the abilities that we hope for as a first-time mom,” said Mary Stella, DRC’s director of media and marketing. “She’s skillfully guiding that baby around. We always look really carefully at the newborns, but so far so good.”

The center’s animal care team was able to breathe easier after observing natural nursing between the calf and her mother, indicating that – for now – the calf should be able to receive her nutrition and care from her biological mother without a helping hand. 

The development comes as welcome relief for a crew fresh off months of round-the-clock care for Bowie, another calf born at the center in late May. Unable to nurse from her biological mother, the staff’s dedication was put on full display as the baby required 24-hour companionship and feeding in a separate pool for nearly five months before returning to her dolphin family in DRC’s natural lagoons just two weeks before the new arrival.

Though the staff is prepared to do whatever is necessary for the little one, thankfully, Cayo’s maternal instincts have proven strong, giving the center cautious optimism for the new baby’s start to life.

“Cayo is showing all those instincts,” said Stella. “Sometimes she’ll let the baby explore a little bit, but then she’ll come right in and scoop her up. … It’s all that kind of normal mom behavior that you want to see.”

DRC staff have been kept busy welcoming three additions to their dolphin pod this year, as both Bowie and Cayo’s newborn shortly followed the arrival of Ranger, a 2-year old orphan rescued in Texas and transported to DRC in March after being deemed non-releasable.

The center will wait to name the calf until staff have had more time to observe her personality, but is accepting name suggestions at [email protected].

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.