CHICAGO (STMW) — Less than 24 hours after birth, Shedd Aquarium’s newest Pacific white-sided dolphin began nursing – a critical milestone for the newborn calf’s successful development in its critical first weeks.

Animal care and health teams report the calf is nursing regularly, averaging a minute per hour, appropriate amount for a growing dolphin, a release from the Aquarium said.

They estimate the calf is 3 feet long and about 25 pounds, and the nutrient-rich milk from its mother, Piquet, is loaded with fat that helps the calf gain weight. And as a result of successful nursing, Piquet’s diet has increased.

Born on Memorial Day, the calf has already passed many other critical milestones, including bonding with mom and learning to slip-stream, swimming in mom’s wake to save energy, the release said.

“It’s been very exciting the past few days as our animal care team has seen a number of firsts for the calf,” Shedd’s Ken Ramirez said in a statement. “The calf started demonstrating early signs of important learning behavior, such as mimicry and after Piquet vocalized, we heard a definitive vocalization from the calf.”

“Piquet is a wonderfully attentive mom, so we have not needed to provide hands-on care, which would allow us to confirm the calf’s gender,” Shedd veterinarian Caryn Poll said in the statement.

According to Poll, it is difficult to identify calf gender without performing a routine physical.

Boy or girl, the calf will remain under 24-hour observation.

Mother and calf are “progressing well,” Ramirez said. “Although we’re happy to see this progression, we remain extremely cautious as we continue to keep a close eye on both mom and calf’s development during the critical first weeks.”

Piquet and her calf will remain out of public view for a few more weeks.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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