Neonatal critical care and hand-rearing of a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) calf

Jennifer E. Flower, Jennifer N. Langan, Benjamin N. Nevitt, Sathya K. Chinnadurai, Rita Stacey, Marina Ivancic, Michael J. Adkesson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neonatal mortality is a recognized concern in cetaceans and, although infrequently documented, human intervention to provide neonatal care has been successful. Advancements in cetacean medical care now allow for enhanced neonatal care even with challenging circumstances. Herein, we describe neonatal care and hand-rearing of a male, 13 kg bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) calf that was immediately rejected and traumatized by the dam following an uncomplicated parturition. Immediate intervention and restraint allowed for examination, medical stabilization, wound care, parenteral treatments, and diagnostics. Colostrum and milk were collected from the dam under manual and voluntary restraint. The calf was fed a combination of the dam's milk and supplemental formula via a gastric tube, initially hourly with gradually decreasing frequency, for three months. Daily intensive care (e.g., blood sampling, topical wound care, and weights) was performed to monitor systemic health. The calf was originally housed alone but later was transitioned to a pool with visual and auditory access to other dolphins. When the calf reached 8 months of age, he was slowly introduced to another dam/calf pair. The calf is presently 4 years old and continues to thrive in a mixed social group of dam and calf pairs and young adult females comprised of two males and six females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)482-490
Number of pages9
JournalAquatic Mammals
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018


  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Calf
  • Cetacean
  • Critical care
  • Hand-rearing
  • Neonate
  • Nutrition
  • Tursiops truncatus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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