Rare footage of a dolphin giving birth is currently captivating YouTube audiences enthralled to see the newborn appear to instantly recognize its mama -- and refuse to let her out of its sight.
The baby dolphin, a female, was born Sept. 17 at Dolphin Quest Hawaii, a conservation- and education-dedicated marine park and tourist attraction at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the big island.
The video couldn't come at a better time. Consider it a circle-of-life balm for animal lovers devastated by Sunday morning's news about the death of a newborn panda at the National Zoo in Washington. The cub was born as part of a breeding program to help bring the beloved species back from the brink of extinction.
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The joyous video has been watched nearly 700,000 times.
The birth was a first for dolphin mom, Keo, who is 12 years old. It's also a first for Dolphin Quest, which opened in 1988. Keo's baby is the 18th to be born at Dolphin Quest -- and the first second-generation calf to be born there.
"The baby ... and mom are both well and wonderful," according to a statement posted online. "The baby dolphin began nursing within four hours of birth."
The newborn dolphin appeared healthy, lively and playful after it emerged. It seemed almost gleeful to be free, make those honking and clicking noises for which dolphins are known and sticking extra close to its mother's side, as you can see in the photo above, at left.
But experts warned that the newborn requires careful oversight.
"The first 30 days of a newborn dolphin's life are the most critical," a statement posted on the park's website said. "Dolphin Quest trainers will continue round-the-clock watch over the pair, recording nursing and respiration rates, and making sure that Keo is well-fed and hydrated. Over that period, Keo's new baby will be introduced to the other nine dolphins at Dolphin Quest Hawaii. After the initial 30-day care period, trainers will select a name for the new baby girl."
Some might roll their eyes at this next bit, chalking it up to anthropomorphizing or Dolphin Quest promotion. But we'll pass it along and let you decide for yourself:
Dr. Rae Stone, the marine mammal veterinarian and a Dolphin Quest co-founder, said Keo seemed to sense that the humans surrounding her during her pregnancy and labor were safeguarding the baby deep inside her.
"The trust shared between Keo and her human crew members throughout the birth of this beautiful baby was extraordinary," Stone said on the website. "Keo clearly sought out and took comfort and reassurance from her human friends. And she willingly swam up to the dock to allow veterinarians to check the baby's heart rate with ultrasound during labor."
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