A tragic, yet not completely unforeseen, end befell the calf of one of Aquatica’s four remaining Commerson’s dolphins, Ringer. Due to her age and the lack of genetic diversity in the small dolphin population, Ringer had been administered contraceptives before the unexpected pregnancy occurred. A few minutes after the calf was born, SeaWorld’s staff began resuscitation but were unsuccessful in saving the animal.
Commerson’s dolphins are reminiscent of orcas, with their black and white color patterns, and known for swimming upside down. According to SeaWorld, the species has a life expectancy of around 15 years, although some exceptions have survived as long as 30. SeaWorld obtained a dozen Commerson’s dolphins in 1983. With such a small population and a lack of genetic diversity, the company had no intentions of letting the animals breed. Their plan had been to let the group live out their days as the park’s last members of the species, which today numbers only four (Ringer and 3 males). For this reason, Ringer had been given contraceptives to help her avoid pregnancy.
No contraceptive works flawlessly, however, and Ringer did wind up pregnant. SeaWorld was initially hopeful about this unexpected addition. In an e-mail written after the pregnancy announcement, SeaWorld spokeswoman Susan Storey said, “She has been doing very well and her pregnancy appears to have progressed normally. Our care team and veterinary teams have put a great deal of planning and thought into preparing for this birth and to help set Ringer and the calf up for success.”
Any development with SeaWorld’s animal care comes under scrutiny from animal rights advocates, and this pregnancy was no different. Animal Welfare Institute marine mammal scientist, Naomi Rose, expressed her doubts about the chances of a healthy outcome, stating that the conditions SeaWorld provide the animals with are “hardly ideal” for breeding.
After news of the unsuccessful birth, Rose said in an e-mail, “This is the kind of prediction I hate being right about. This dolphin should never have been allowed to get pregnant. It’s all such a waste and very much not good welfare practice, to allow reproduction when the odds are so against a successful outcome.”
Ringer is under 24-hour care and observation, away from the display area for the Commerson’s. To determine the cause of death the calf will be subject to a necropsy.
Source: The Orlando Sentinel