Baby dolphin’s death an enigma

News release
12 March 2019

Results of a post-mortem on a baby dolphin, recovered from the Port River on Monday 3 March by rangers from the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary (ADS), suggest severe haemorrhaging was the cause of death. Because there were no signs of damage to the outside of the body, South Australian Museum researchers believe that it was unlikely to have been hit by a boat.

The bottlenose dolphin calf was born to Ripple, one of the sanctuary’s resident dolphins, and was approximately one day old when it died.

South Australian Museum scientists led by Dr Cath Kemper carried out the post-mortem as part of a monitoring program funded by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges (AMLR) Natural Resources Management Board.

Dr Kemper said that unlike humans, there is very little known about birthing problems in dolphins, which makes it difficult to confirm why a newborn dies.

“Follow-up investigations are required to confirm the cause of death,” Dr Kemper said.

This is the third calf born to Ripple between 2015 and 2019. All died very young and underwent post-mortems conducted by Ikuko Tomo, a marine mammal pathologist at the South Australian Museum.

“All three calves were less than one week old and showed signs of being born alive,” Dr Kemper said.

“The calf Marea, born in 2015, was suffering from pneumonia. This was probably caused by meconium, the first stool of a mammal infant, entering the lungs during birth.

“Holly, born in late 2017, died at about one week of age. This was probably as a result of severe haemorrhaging, but the cause of this is not known.”

Brenton Grear from Natural Resources AMLR said the work of Dr Kemper and Museum staff provided invaluable information about the Port River dolphins which was a significant help to the rangers managing the sanctuary.

“The death of the calf is genuinely unfortunate; however, the ADS dolphins are a wild population and there’s still a great deal we don’t know about wild dolphin births and normal survival rates,” he said.

“As we continue to improve the habitat for dolphins in the ADS we’ll hopefully improve the chances for successful dolphin births and survival.”

For more information

Andrea Murphy
Manager Communications and Marketing
South Australian Museum
0475 834 072

Chris Booth
Communications Manager
Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges
0427 962 162


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More information

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges