When a dolphin was born at The Mirage on Saturday, the event was a family affair.
Minutes after the female bottlenose dolphin was delivered, its grandmother helped guide it to the surface to take its first breath, with mom and a 1-year-old "uncle" close by.
Curators at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat say the birthing style is instinctual for the mammals and mirrors humans in some ways.
"Her family surrounded her to help," exhibit curator Jim Hudson said. "This is a sensitive time, a time of focus, and there is a bond-building."
The as-yet-unnamed calf swam into position as a third-generation dolphin and the eighth to be born at the habitat. Hudson said the 8-year-old mother, Huff N Puff, had a smooth two-hour labor and the calf was thriving.
Dutchess, the 32-year-old grandmother, has given birth to eight babies in her life and has taught her daughter mothering skills. Her own 1-year-old calf, Sgt. Pepper, is still nursing.
Curators and veterinary staff will monitor the calf 24 hours a day to mark nutritional and developmental milestones. They also will keep watch on the other dolphins, especially because Huff N Puff is a first-time mother and the calf’s 1-year-old uncle, Sgt. Pepper, is "playful and persistent."
Assistant curator Greg Sabataso documented the pod’s activity patterns Thursday morning from an observation area.
The four dolphins moved together around the habitat’s birthing and research pool with the calf gliding alongside its mother.
The pair lagged back at one point and Dutchess ensured the curious male dolphin didn’t follow.
"She doesn’t let them interact," he said. "She’s keeping him in line."
Fellow dolphins and curators aren’t the only ones keeping watch. The Mirage found itself if hot water with marine life welfare advocates in 2007 when it was reported that 11 of its habitat’s 16 dolphins died since it was opened in 1990. The animals died from different causes ranging from old age to mysterious illnesses. One dolphin was stillborn and another died two weeks after being born.
Hotel-casino officials launched their own investigation and hired a team of outside experts to conduct an audit of the exhibit. The group submitted its findings to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and undisclosed changes were made.
Hudson said a team of more than 20 experts was present at the calf’s "almost textbook" birth Saturday morning and the 24-hour watch will continue for a few more weeks.
"Our priority is the care of these animals," he said. "We want to continue to learn from them and continue to educate."
So far, the baby is normal. It weighs about 20 pounds and nurses every 20 minutes. It’s expected to grow about a pound a day for about six months, Sabataso said.
The calf has started to wander away from her mother but usually just glides alongside Huff N Puff’s slip stream, the current between its dorsal fin and tail fluke. Three faded creases, called fetal folds, line her sides and are marks from when she was scrunched in her mother’s womb.
Hudson said a name will be selected through an upcoming employee naming contest.
The calf has been on display for public viewing since the day it was born.
The row of visitors lining the exhibit Thursday afternoon hoisted their digital cameras in unison when baby and mother swam past. Coos of "It’s so cute" followed the creatures.
Las Vegas resident Barbie Maisano made the baby’s debut a midday field trip for her three daughters.
Nine-year-old Gia and younger sister Angie, 8, leaned over the exhibit’s break wall and giggled when the dolphins glided by.
Gia said she wants to train dolphins when she’s older and Thursday’s visit taught her new facts about her favorite animal.
"They nurse for two years, and the mommies protect the babies," she said.
"This will definitely be the highlight of the their day," Barbie Maisano said. "It’s so cute to watch."
Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.Video TIMES AND PRICES Location: Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage. Open: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekends Admission: $15 for adults, $10 for children 4 to 10 years old.