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Baby dolphins are technically called calves. They are much smaller than adult dolphins and usually appear paler in color. They tend to measure about three or four feet when they are first born, but the exact size of the baby will depend on the particular species of dolphin.
Just minutes after each dolphin is born, they are able to swim on their own and breathe for themselves. They will need to swim to the surface soon after birth in order to take their first breath, but after this, breathing at the water’s surface is done instinctively. Dolphins are usually born tail first so that they don’t drown before they are able to take their first breath.
They are fed with milk produced by their mothers for the first 6 months to 2 years of their life. After about 6 months, dolphins are able to catch and eat fish and crustaceans and no longer need to depend entirely on their mothers’ milk. Dolphin calves have to learn to hold their breath whilst they are drinking their mother’s milk, something which does not necessarily come naturally to them, but that could be fatal if they don’t master it quickly.
Dolphin calves will nurse from their mothers whilst still moving. They tend to spend 4 or 5 seconds taking milk from the mammary gland on one side before spending the same amount of time nursing on the other side. They do not always receive milk from their mothers but also nurse from other female dolphins in the pod if their mothers are elsewhere.
Whilst the babies grow, they will always swim in the center of the pod so that the adults in the group can protect them from predators. Whilst fully-grown adult dolphins do not have many natural predators in the wild, dolphin calves are much smaller and more inexperienced which makes them a much easier target for predators such as sharks and killer whales.
A baby dolphin will live with its mother in the same pod for a further 3 to 8 years after it has stopped consuming milk, until it reaches puberty. For some species, this can take up to 10 years. When the calf is still very small, adult dolphins will swim above and just to one side of them. This allows the baby to be swept along in the mother’s wake, reducing the amount of energy it has to use to swim and increasing the total distance which the young dolphin can swim before getting exhausted.