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A Scientific Milestone: Sex of Dolphin at SeaWorld San Diego Determined Prior to Conception
Date:1/16/2009

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- One of the world's rare sex-selected zoological species, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was born Nov. 28 at SeaWorld San Diego. The birth further validates the park's ability to preferentially produce female or male offspring through the use of sperm sexing and artificial insemination technologies. The SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center is the only organization in the world to apply preferential sex-selection reproductive research to exotic animals.

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20090116/CLF054)

"Our artificial insemination program has produced four sex-selected dolphin calves at SeaWorld. This birth further proves this assisted reproductive technology can be applied successfully in a zoological setting," said Dr. Justine O'Brien, scientific director of the Center. "There are many species, such as dolphins and elephants, which in the wild exist in single-sex dominated groups. Our continued advancements in sex-selection technology will allow zoos to provide optimal social environments and maintain species' genetic diversity."

In November 2007, O'Brien and Dr. Todd Robeck, Busch Entertainment Corporation (BEC) corporate director of theriogenology (the study of animal reproduction), artificially inseminated Tobie, a 17-year-old, 440-pound Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at SeaWorld San Diego. O'Brien and Robeck used sperm previously sorted then cryopreserved at the Center, which is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment necessary to sort and freeze sperm.

Sperm sexing by flow cytometry utilizes a technology owned and developed by the biotechnology company XY Inc. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center modified the technology to separate dolphin sperm that carry a female-producing X chromosome from sperm that carry a male-producing Y chromosome. Following separation into female and male populations, sperm are frozen and stored for future insemination. The sexing procedure does not involve genetic modification - it simply separates the female- and male-producing sperm. High accuracy of the procedure results in sperm samples containing greater than 90 percent of the desired sex. All sex-selected dolphin calves born to date have been female, giving a 100 percent success rate for the Center's efforts.

At 2:09 p.m. Nov. 28, 2008, Tobie gave birth to a healthy female calf under the watchful eyes of SeaWorld's dolphin trainers, animal care specialists and veterinarians. The calf, which has been named Cocoa, weighed approximately 30 pounds and measured between 3-1/2 and 4 feet. The first sex-selected zoological species, another Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was born at SeaWorld San Diego in October 2005. The other sex-selected dolphins were born at the park in September 2006 and May 2007.

"We're elated about the birth of this calf," said Robeck. "This achievement is a significant step in the continued application of sperm-sexing technology to wildlife species management, further demonstrating and bolstering SeaWorld and Busch Gardens' innovative zoological stewardship."

The successful birth was a collaborative effort between SeaWorld's reproductive physiologists, veterinary, animal care and training staffs.

"To produce a dolphin whose sex was predetermined is a major accomplishment for the zoological community," said Mike Scarpuzzi, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego.

While this reproductive technology will significantly assist zoological institutions around the globe to optimally manage their species' genetic diversity, the knowledge gained from this scientific research may ultimately have application in marine and terrestrial animals in the wild, including endangered species.

Sexing of sperm from dolphins and other zoological species including elephants, rhinos and gorillas will continue at the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center at SeaWorld San Diego. "We are extremely excited about our potential to apply valuable knowledge gained from our research to wildlife species' reproductive and social health," said Robeck.

SeaWorld San Diego is one of 10 Worlds of Discovery operated by Busch Entertainment Corporation. Other Worlds of Discovery include SeaWorld parks in Orlando, Fla. and San Antonio; Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa, Fla. and Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va.; Discovery Cove in Orlando; Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pa. near Philadelphia; Aquatica, SeaWorld's water park in Orlando; and water parks Adventure Island in Tampa and Water Country USA in Williamsburg. Worlds of Discovery, based in Orlando, play host to more than 25 million visitors and employ more than 26,000 people nationwide.

Leaders in conservation and education, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove care for the largest animal collection in the world and offer an education Web site especially for students and teachers at www.seaworld.org. Information on the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund is at www.swbg-conservationfund.org. General park information is found at www.seaworld.com.


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SOURCE SeaWorld San Diego
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