10 février 2000
Dans un bassin du Zoo de Brookfield, (Chicago), les soigneurs ont isolé Tapeko, une mère dauphin âgée de 17 ans, et son enfant malade, né le 1er février 2000.
La maman est restée auprès de son bébé toute la soirée du samedi, le soulevant doucement lorsqu’il devait respirer et ralentissant quand il quittait le » courant d’eau » crée par elle en l’entraînant dans son sillage.
Au bout de 45 minutes, l’enfant coula jusqu’au fond du bassin et roula sur le côté. Tapeko nagea aussitôt à sa suite, remontant le bébé en surface à l’aide de son rostre et le maintenant à la surface, où elle le confia aux deux soigneurs du zoo. Elle resta à attendre sur le bord du bassin et à regarder les vétérinaires qui s’efforçait de sauver son enfant en soufflant dans son évent, selon la même technique de bouche-à-bouche qu’on utilise pour les victimes de noyade, et qui lui appliquaient un massage de la cage thoracique.
Mais tous ces efforts ne servirent à rien : le nouveau-né dauphin du Zoo de Brookfield mourut dimanche midi à 12h15 précise. Cette mort a pris les officiels du Zoo par surprise. En principe, Tapeko se conduisait comme une excellente mère – ce bébé était son troisième – et l’enfant semblait en bonne santé et très vif au moment de sa naissance.
« Lundi, Tapeko paraissait normale. Entourée et soutenue en permanence par les soigneurs du Zoo, elle semblait ne pas manifester une dépression trop sévère. Elle s’est mise à nager avec les autres femelles et s’est même intéressée aux visiteurs qui venaient la regarder au travers des vitres sous-marines du bassin. On envisage donc de lui faire reprendre les shows dès mardi ».
Néanmoins, les mêmes soigneurs attestent que 24 heures après le décès de son enfant, la maman continuait à l’appeler et à vocaliser son nom…
La polémique autour de ce décès est toujours la même : d’un côté, des scientifiques attachés aux recherches militaires et à l’industrie des delphinariums (tels que Randy Wells) prétendent que ce décès est normal et même inférieur au taux des morts prématurées observées en pleine mer. C’est oublier qu’en liberté, les dauphins décèdent essentiellement sous la dent d’un requin, un poisson plutôt rare dans les bassins des delphinariums.
Dans le cas du bébé de Tapeko, aucune explication n’a encore été avancée quant aux causes du décès.
Rappelons que Tapeko avait perdu son premier bébé de la même manière. Son second bébé, Kaylee, vit toujours. Il est âgé de 6 ans.
Dolphin calf’s death is latest in a sad trend
February 15, 2000
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
Like any desperate mom, Tapeko made every attempt to save her child.
In a tank that Brookfield Zoo officials had isolated for the mother and baby, the 17-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin patiently stayed with her calf late Saturday, following it up to the surface when it needed to breathe more frequently and slowing down when the newborn
fell out of her « slipstream, » a formation in which the calf is kept at its mother’s side by a current of water.
After 45 minutes, the calf sank to the bottom of the tank and rolled onto its side. Tapeko swam after it, lifting the baby with her snout and bringing it to the surface, where she handed it over to trainers. She then watched at the deck as they tried to revive the 12-day-old dolphin by breathing into the blowhole atop its head, in a technique similar to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and performing chest
But the mom’s and zookeepers’ best efforts failed: Brookfield Zoo’s newest baby dolphin died at 12:15 a.m. Sunday.
It was a death that caught officials by surprise. They had been exultant over the calf’s « textbook » birth and its quick ability to bond with its mother and to begin nursing within 10 hours. And Tapeko, they said, had been a great mother, showing all the expected nurturing instincts.
On Monday, trainers struggled with their own disappointment at this latest death, which follows several others in the area’s captive marine mammal population. But they also tried to use the experience to help them learn what causes so many dolphin calves to die–only half survive to the age of independence in the wild–and how their moms are affected by that loss.
For now, Tapeko appears healthy, said zoo officials, who hope to re-open the dolphin exhibit
In the meantime, they are investigating the baby dolphin’s death. A necropsy, or animal autopsy, done immediately after the calf’s death Sunday did not reveal a cause, and now trainers are awaiting results from pathology tests underway on the calf’s tissue and blood samples to look for other microscopic signs. The results are expected within two weeks.
The calf might have had an infection, but zoo marine mammal collection manager Greg Dye said that likely would have produced a longer period of sickness. In this case, the dolphin died less than an hour after showing the first signs of illness–an inability to keep up with its mother just five minutes after the last nursing at 11:25 p.m.Saturday.
Bacteria-contaminated fish, which caused the death of a beluga whale mother at the Shedd Aquarium in December, is another possibility. But officials said the chances of that being the cause are slim because the calf was still nursing and would have had to contract the illness from the mother, which has shown no signs of illness.
A sample of Tapeko’s blood and milk also will be sent to conservation biologist Randy Wells, who works with Brookfield Zoo and studies dolphins in the wild near Sarasota, Fla. He will test those specimens to study a theory that newborn calves die when ocean-borne toxins that are absorbed in the mother’s fat are released during nursing.
Biologists who study population factors say it might just be nature playing its role. In the wild, Wells has found, 26 percent of newborns die in their first year from a range of causes, including attacks by sharks. Only 47 percent of the calves that have been observed reach age 3, when they generally become independent.
« The populations are stable for these mammals, » Wells said. « We only expect two to survive–one to replace the mom and one to replace the dad. The expectation is that a higher percentage of calves will die than survive. »
Infancy remains a critical time for dolphins; the birth is not considered successful until the calf passes the 1-year milestone. Moreover, 85 percent of first-time moms lose their calves. Tapeko lost her firstborn. Her second, Kaylee, is now 6. The calf that died Sunday, which was born Feb. 1, was her
In the case of Brookfield Zoo, eight of the 13 dolphins that have been born at the zoo since the 1980s have survived.
There is a chance the zoo won’t learn what caused the calf’s death.
« At this point, we’re being careful not to speculate, » Dye said. »We’ll look at all the data that comes back in and what it’s telling us. »
That explanation does not satisfy some animal-rights activists.
Debbie Leahy, president of Illinois Animal Action, said zoos cite high mortality rates in the wild to absolve their facilities.
« This constant news of newborns dying just reaffirms our position that these animals don’t fare well in captivity, » she said. But while the death left a marine mammal staff of « 17 mourning parents, » it also afforded them the opportunity to further study dolphins.
« We can learn to take this calf’s death and try to answer questions pertaining to lives of animals that will ultimately benefit lives of animals that we’re caring for and their future offspring, » Dye said. »This is information we need to learn for better management of these animals in the wild and at zoos and aquariums. »
While all that information will be useful some day, for now Tapeko’s health is the zookeepers’ priority.
She is being monitored 24 hours a day and appears to be doing well, Dye said.
She is not isolating herself from her pod and in fact is swimming with the other females, even inching up to the underground viewing window at the Seven Seas exhibit to peek at viewers and nudging trainers for a back rub. In the wild, researchers have found that moms will carry their dead calves with them for days; Tapeko had her own way of mourning her child.
For 24 hours after the death, trainers said they could hear her whistling for the baby.
Sent by Debbie Leahy, President of Illinois Animal Action.