Wednesday, July 20, 2011 | 5:05 p.m.
He hasn't acquired a taste for fish and isn't yet prone to showing off with flips and waves, but the newest member of the dolphin family at the Mirage is quickly becoming a fan favorite.
People who lined up around the dolphin tank at Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden on Wednesday oohed and aahed as the 17-day-old calf trailed his mother, Duchess, around the pool.
"It's really cute," 8-year-old Joseph Marrs said as he watched the dolphin intently.
Born July 3, the calf is the ninth dolphin at the Mirage exhibit. He hasn't been named yet and is still a bit shy, staying close to his mother and his sister, Huf n Puf, with whom he shares the tank.
Duchess was pregnant with the calf, her third, for nearly a year. The father, Lightning, lives with other males in a bachelor pod at another pool in the habitat.
Phillip Admire, the curator of dolphin care, said the calf is healthy and progressing, following what Admire called "the smoothest birth" he's seen in 22 years in the industry.
The calf has passed several early milestones, including figuring out how to breath, nurse and swim, and the next steps will be for the dolphin to develop more curiosity and independence, Admire said.
"[When he was born] he didn't really know how to turn," Admire said. "He's starting to get a bit more adventurous … We want to see him become more curious about his environment and aware of what's around him."
The Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage is a research-oriented center, with constant monitoring of the dolphins and exercises structured around understanding the animals.
Admire said a newborn dolphin offers a unique opportunity to learn more about their development and social interactions.
"Every birth is different from the length of labor to what the calf does right after he comes out," Admire said. "It's a whole new world for him so it's interesting to see how he interprets what's around him. How does he learn? How do his mother and the other dolphins in the pool help teach him how to be a dolphin?"
The calf is still nursing with his mother, but will begin eating a few pounds of fish a day in the coming months as he goes through a growth spurt, Admire said.
Newborn calves generally weigh between 25 and 30 pounds at birth and are between 2 and 3 feet in length, but the staff at the habitat doesn't have exact measurements of the newest calf.
The typical lifespan of a dolphin stretches to more than 25 years, and so far in his first days, Admire said, the calf appears to be on his way to a long and healthy life.
"I don't anticipate any problems," Admire said. "We want to see him grow normally and we have vets on staff. But as long as we don't see anything wrong … it's hands-off. We'll let mom handle it and he'll develop naturally."