Baby dolphin Bowie, bottom, swims with her adopted caretaker Calusa. CONTRIBUTED

After nearly five months of round-the-clock attention from her human caregivers, the newest addition to Dolphin Research Center’s animal family is getting some help from fellow flippered family members. 

Named “Bowie” in honor of her maternal grandfather Rainbow who passed away earlier this year, the calf was born to mother Gypsi on May 31. Mere hours after entering the world, she immediately required full-time care from DRC staff as it became apparent she would not be able to nurse from her biological mother, a common phenomenon among first-time dolphin mothers.

On Oct. 20, after months of exhaustive efforts by her caretakers, Bowie made the journey from a specialized medical pool, where she had lived for the last five months, to rejoin her dolphin family in DRC’s natural saltwater lagoons – specifically, her aunt and notoriously successful “adoptive mother” Calusa.

“We made the decision to move her because she really needs to learn she is a dolphin,” said Linda Erb, DRC’s vice president of animal care and training. “While we provided her with everything we could in the med pool – nutrition, company and exercise in the form of her human friends – we simply cannot be dolphins.”

As noted by the team, Bowie’s new lagoon mate has an established track record of success. In addition to fostering another of her nieces in 2015, the 21-year-old dolphin recently took on the task of fostering “Ranger,” another of the center’s recent additions that was rescued and rehabilitated after stranding off the coast of Texas.

Though the team is hopeful they will experience natural nursing between Bowie and her adoptive mother, they remain committed to providing the little one with nutrition six times per day via a bottle or tube in the form of a blended mix of five lactating dolphin mothers’ milks. And though her caretakers weren’t initially sure how Calusa would feel about being temporarily separated from the baby during scheduled feeding times, they couldn’t be happier with the result.

“The trust that Calusa has in us is humbling,” said Erb.

With another dolphin, Cayo, expecting a calf within the next few weeks, Bowie will hopefully have a playmate around her age before long, and the staff looks forward to introductions with more dolphins in DRC’s pod – including, eventually, spending time again with her own biological mother.

Whatever the future may hold, the staff at DRC is thankful for Calusa’s aid after five months of herculean efforts to care for the little one through what was largely uncharted territory for the center.

“We are so thankful that Calusa is cooperating and letting us continue to support Bowie while she makes the transition from formula to fish,” said Rita Irwin, DRC president and CEO.

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.