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Raise a Baby Whale
Scientists at Sea World in San Diego had the first opportunity to observe and raise a baby whale in captivity. It began on January 11, 1997, when a newborn gray whale calf washed ashore in Long Beach, California. In poor conditon, she was rescued and transported to Sea World's Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program. The animal care specialists named the captive gray whale calf J.J. The specialists learned something from studying J.J. as they tried to teach her how to feed after weaning her from formula (a mixure like her mother's milk). They fed and prepared the young gray whale for her eventual release back into the wild. 

J.J. had been at Sea World eight months by August 1997. At this stage of a wild gray’s life, the calves are being weaned. That is, they are learning to eat solid foods more and mother's milk less. Animal care specialists put squid and other fish on the floor of J.J.’s pool twice each day. They were happy to see her apparent understanding of the location of the solid food, and how to get it inside herself. J.J. knew how to scoop the fish into her mouth and use her baleen to filter out the water and other sediment. At feeding times in her pool, they also played gray whale sounds that were recorded in the birthing lagoons of Mexico. They hoped this would help J.J. to associate the whale sounds with food. Again, scientists were happy to see that J.J. made this connection and gave a clear response. The experts hoped that by associating these sounds with food, J.J. would follow the sounds when she hears them in the open ocean. The sounds would lead her to discover other gray whales feeding. She could then feed along with them. This would be very important to her survival in the wild.    

"The rescue of J.J. was the first time in history that anyone had ever successfully raised a gray whale in captivity, and J.J. taught them a lot," comments Kim Shelden. "We will never know whether J.J. ever learned how to find prey in the wild once she was released, but I hope she found other gray whales to interact with and maybe learn from."   

 

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