Water-baby dolphin Angelo is a global first for Ocean Park
Jennifer Cheng and LeeAnn Shan
Relaxed on her back in an Ocean Park pool, Angel received the seeds of a new life.
A year later, the 27-year-old dolphin became the first in the world to give birth by artificial insemination conducted in water.
Two other dolphins have been born through artificial insemination out of water at the park, which also pioneered this procedure.
But veterinarians say the mother is more relaxed - crucial to the success of the procedure - in her natural environment.
Previous artificial inseminations have been conducted after the mother was taken from the water on a stretcher but more advanced technology now makes it possible to be done in water.
No tranquilliser is used for either procedure, which is stopped at the first sign of resistance.
Baby Angelo, now weighing 50kg and eating 10kg of fish a day, was born in March from semen taken from 21-year-old Domino, who was borrowed from South Africa for breeding purposes. It is common practice to bring in prospective fathers from far away to avoid inbreeding.
Artificial means were used because it would have been difficult to get the two strangers to mate naturally.
Angelo weighed 14kg at 10 days old. As well as eating fish, he continues to nurse from his mother, which he will do for two to three years.
Gary Wong Hoi-ming, curator of marine mammals, said the dolphin could swim away at any time so it was important to cultivate trust between animal and staff.
Chief vet Paolo Martelli led the procedure in which the mother was inseminated. Over the 12 months of gestation regular ultrasound checks were carried out on on the fetus.
Wong said the dolphin-breeding programme was stopped from 2006 until 2010 during expansion work at Ocean Park.
'Dolphins require a peaceful environment where they are comfortable to gestate and give birth,' said Wong. 'They are like people.' The explosives used for 14 months to open a new tunnel would have been too uncomfortable for pregnant dolphins.
Ocean Park is also celebrating the births of two female baby sea lions, conceived by natural mating and born in June and July. The baby dolphin and sea lions will not be involved in performances or for public exhibition, but will be used in Ocean Park education programmes.
Another dolphin, Gina, is eight months pregnant by natural mating.