Minnesota Zoo's youngest dolphin dies

8:21 PM, Jan 22, 2006   |    comments
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The youngest dolphin at the Minnesota Zoo died Saturday after fracturing his skull in an accident. Harley, which was 7-month old, had been learning to swim with his mother between two back pools, when he jumped out of the water and hit his head on the concrete deck, said Kevin Willis, director of biological programs at the zoo. A staff member quickly got the 5 1/2-foot-long, 120-pound male dolphin back into the water and he took a breath and followed his mother, Willis said. But soon divers monitoring the dolphin realized the calf had died. "We've never had a dolphin death due to trauma before," Willis said. X-rays showed that Harley had fractured his skull and his lungs were full of blood. A necropsy will be done at the University of Minnesota. Harley was born June 21 and his name was chosen from 10,000 names in a contest. Harley was just learning to negotiate his way between the east and west pools, and the training was going well, Willis said. Saturday, Harley was swimming with his mother, Rio, from one pool to the other before the accident. The two back pools are separated by a 6-foot-long, 6-foot-wide, 6-foot-deep channel. Gates separate the back pools and the presentation pool where dolphin shows are performed. Rio swam back across the channel, but Harley trailed behind. Either frightened or confused, Harley jumped out of the water, zoo officials said. Harley, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was never on display, but could be seen 24 hours a day on the zoo's Webcam. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins live in temperate to tropical waters from as far north as Greenland to as far south as Central America. Adults weigh between 350 and 600 pounds and range from 7 to 12 feet in length. Other dolphins in the zoo's exhibit are Semo, a 42-year-old male, Chinook, a 23-year-old male, Ayla, a 13-year-old female with a kink in her back caused by scoliosis, and Spree.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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