A Pacific white-sided dolphin at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago gave birth in the early hours of April 18. Katrl, almost 29 years old, became a mother for the first time when she gave birth to a calf estimated to be about 36 inches long and weighed about 11.3 kilogrammes.

The calf’s gender is not yet known. Moreover, both the mother and calf appear healthy but these two will remain under 24-hour observation for several months.

Giving birth was not easy for Katrl. It took three hours of labour and the assistance of more than 40 staff members and veterinary workers. The dolphin ate herring and capelin as well as asked for rubdowns from its trainers, eventually giving birth at 9:14 a.m.

“Not all first-time mothers are successful in knowing how to rear their newborns,” says Lisa Takaki, senior director of marine mammals at Shedd Aquarium. “She is being extremely attentive.”

Witnessing the birth of a Pacific white-sided dolphin is an uncommon sight. Apparently, there are only 16 dolphins of the species left in North American zoos.

“To watch a dolphin be born is beautiful, but to also see its natural instincts fully take over in a matter of seconds as it kicks its tiny tail to propel its little body to the surface to take its first breath is overwhelmingly emotional,” adds Takaki.

As of the moment, the Shedd Aquarium visitors would not be able to see both Katrl and the calf as they will remain away from public view to encourage the mother-offspring bonding as well as provide privacy. However, Takaki maintains that most of the spots at Shedd Aquarium remain open to the public.

While this event was generally received warmly, some are dubious about Shedd Aquarium’s intention and how the animals are acquired. Apparently, some believe that the dolphins and whales at the aquarium were stolen from the wild. However, the institution clarified some suspicions on the YouTube comments section.

“First of all, we have not stolen any dolphins or Beluga whales from the wild. We collect them. We do really care about the well-being of all of our dolphins and whales. We give them the privacy and dignity they deserve while giving birth,” says the statement.

“We also do not interfere with mother nature in terms of breeding dolphins … in addition, we do not keep dolphins and whales captive … we also do not exploit any cetaceans in our facility … we do not approve of or endorse any kind of drive hunts,” adds the statement. “Animal care is our top priority. We only allow faulty equipment in the sting ray habitats.”