When three dolphins at the National Aquarium in Baltimore became pregnant last year, Hans Keller, director of IS, started thinking about how the aquarium would keep track of the vulnerable infant dolphins, which have only a 20 percent survival rate when born in captivity to a first-time mother. He visited another aquarium that had just finished a breeding observation program with beluga whales. “When I saw they had 15 binders full of paper records, I thought there had to be a better way,” says Keller.
Keller’s IS department decided to use Pendragon Forms Software applications tied to their Microsoft SQL 7 database to capture important behavior data on the mothers right away in order to pinpoint their due dates. Once Spirit was born in April and Raven and Maya followed in May, staff members and volunteers observed the babies around the clock. They entered data on nursing, heart and breathing rates, and the mothers’ responses to their young into Palm Vx devices. During a five-month period, staffers and volunteers logged 2,748 observation hours and entered 170,000 records, all on six Palm devices.
Keller calls the wireless program a success, primarily because all three dolphin babies survived and are thriving, aided in part by the extensive data the aquarium collected. If any small problem arose, marine biologists could check the accumulated data and respond immediately. Also, the wireless program was so cost-effective (total investment for equipment and software came to roughly $2,100), the IS department is looking at using Palm devices to record and store data related to stranded or stray marine mammals brought to the aquarium for observation. Keller says he’s willing to share the aquarium’s modified applications with other zoos or aquariums that want to give it a try. “It was a beautiful experience,” Keller says. “We’d do it again in a heartbeat.”