Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Professional Failures: Baby Edition

I've been so lucky in my career for so many reasons.  One of my favorites has to do with seeing the birth of a dolphin.


Dolphin babies are. so. cute.  Not only that, it's an incredible experience to watch the process of birth of an animal who spends her entire life in the water....and then has to raise a baby, and nurse the baby, and make sure he/she doesn't get into any shenanigans. 

I was thinking a lot about the many dolphin births I've witnessed, the last one being a young'un over at Gulfarium who's now over a year old.  In fact, my own young'in is turning one TODAY!  So I've been reflecting a lot on the incredible memories I have of so many wonderful babies, human and dolphin alike.

More babies means more birthdays which means MORE CAKE

Aaaaaaaaaaand that brought up one of those "OMFG I JUST ENDED MY CAREER" mistakes I've made.  And it happened to be for the first ever dolphin birth I'd witnessed.  Join me on this trip down memory lane.

While in Miami, I never got the chance to witness an actual birth, but I did get to observe newborn calves.  It was awesome!! It was the first time I'd ever seen a dolphin that tiny.  Because I was an apprentice trainer, a lot of my time was spent on obs shifts watching for nursing, breathing, and other mom/calf behaviors. I was super lucky because I not only observed baby bottlenose dolphins, but an adorable Pacific white-sided dolphin calf too (I wrote about her in this blog).

Baby Ohana!

For the most part, it wasn't easy to watch a dolphin be born in some of the habitats.  Some were natural lagoons, others were manmade habitats without underwater viewing windows.  So for us newbie trainers, we'd basically walk in for our fish prep shift and be told, "By the way, so-and-so had her calf!"

After going through this process four times, I felt I had a pretty good hang of the whole New Dolphin Baby routine.  For my purposes, it went something like this:

1. I come into work, and find out that baby is born
2. I spend 8 to 10 hours watching the baby do its baby thing
3. I spend a lot of money on McDonalds to stay awake for the overnight shifts
4. I listen to a lot of Earth Wind and Fire when it wasn't necessary to listen for breaths
Rinse and repeat.

Thank you, gentlemen, for being a part of my early career calf-obs experience

When I left Miami and went to another facility, three of the dolphins were pregnant.  Everyone was psyched ('d be weird not to be).  I thought, "Alright! I can do this! I know what to expect." 

As the months passed and the due dates drew closer, we started having obs on the preggos.  This was a little different than my previous experience, but I thought WOW.  I could be the person who gets to see the birth!!! THIS IS THE BEST.

Getting those pre-parturition shifts are like the McDonalds Monopoly pieces. You get a million chances to win big, but it like never happens.  And such as the case with me.  Three pregnant dolphins, lots of overnight shifts, and no action. 

I don't even eat McDonalds anymore, but I will buy all the fries in order to win (which....I never have).

I was exhausted.  We all were.  We'd been doing these obs shifts for a while, and while they were in the animals' best interest, we were starting to get tired.  I was especially wiped out, because I need a nap every 45 minutes for optimal performance (side note to current boss: let's talk about my napping schedule). 

On a day like any other, I went home and showered.  My husband (then boyfriend) at the time invited me to his house at the beach and of course I was like YES.  I drove over there and we had a lovely picnic dinner on a gorgeous beach, fished, watched the sunset, and then walked back to his house.

I fell asleep immediately. 

Let me tell you about what happens when I sleep.  I basically die.  In the morning, I'm like a phoenix, reborn from the ashes.  There is very little that can wake me up from my intense sleep.  Here is a short list:

1. I am done sleeping


I've slept through:

1. Alarms
2.. Fire alarms

3. Actual fires
4. Bombs*
5. Up to two liters of water being poured on me

Some kind of Master Switch is shut down in my head when I go to bed, and that's just how it is.  And so it was on that very night. 

Hint: check my pulse

I woke up 10 delicious hours later and went to check my phone to see what time it was and saw:

* 29 missed calls
* 37 text messages

These numbers are not exaggerated.

The texts all said something like, "CAT WHERE ARE YOU" or "FLUKES OUT CAT OMG WHERE ARE YOU".  All from coworkers.  Samesies with the phone calls.


My blood drained from my face and I felt my heart sink into my stomach. The calls and texts started coming in at around 2:30/3am.  It was now 6:30am.  For sure, the calf had been born, and I missed it. 

I frantically got dressed and blasted through the door.  As I leapt into my car, I got another text saying, "CAT WHERE ARE YOU?? SHE'S STILL IN LABOR!"

It was the longest 20 minutes of my life as I hurdled down the highway. I screeched into a parking spot, tore out of the car and ran as fast as I could into the building.  When I got to the underwater viewing windows, I ran into 20+ exhausted trainers, educators and volunteers.  They looked weary; they'd been up since 2am and had been intensely peering into the massive habitat to make sure they didn't miss a moment of the birth.

BAHAHAHAHA this doesn't really belong here but I LOVE IT SO I HAD TO SHARE IT

And here I come, pleading with everyone to believe me that I didn't hear my phone, yes it was on the loudest setting, yes I sleep like the dead, isn't anyone concerned that I could literally have my face ripped off in my sleep and I wouldn't know until the next day?  And as this is happening, not ten minutes after I got there, out comes the baby; the first dolphin I ever saw born.

Meanwhile, everyone else has been up for hours waiting for this to happen.  And here I come, completely rested on 10 glorious hours of sleep and I didn't have to wait hardly at all. 

I thought I'd be fired.

Or whenever the dolphin is about to be born

I mean, it was part of my job responsibilities to be present for births, especially if we needed to intervene in a medical emergency.  Kidding aside about my brain powering down at night, I knew what had happened was really, really bad.  I should've found a way to be more alert.  How could anyone trust me now?  I knew my career was over.

Luckily, my bosses were understanding and humored my relentless apologies.  Even more luckily, this event burned itself into my brain so now I can't even fall asleep when I know a dolphin birth is imminent (turns out, their temp drops 2 degrees within 24 hours of labor, which gave me plenty of warning, and plenty of insomnia).  I've witnessed 9 dolphin births in the last 11 years, and I remember each one vividly.  A little sleepless night here or there is worth it. 

She was so worth it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post Cat!! I sleep like the dead too and had a rough summer of new found allergies ruining it.. And am lucky enough that the folks I volunteer for have been understanding (thought it was career ending too)!

    PS you blog has helped me tremendously as a volunteer and I'm starting to learn to train harbor seals where I volunteer. Thank you thank you thank you!!