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SENTOSA'S UNDERWATER WORLD DOLPHIN-BREEDING PROGRAM HAS BEEN STRUCK A THIRD BLOW!

SENTOSA'S Underwater World's dolphin-breeding program has been struck a third blow in the space of six months - a miscarriage, the death of a newborn and now, the death of an adult female.

There are five pink dolphins left at the Underwater World after the death of Namtam, an adult female. She succumbed to a stomach inflammation. -- TAN SUAN ANN. Namtam, a pink dolphin about 20 years old, miscarried last September and nearly died then. She succumbed on March 5 to acute gastritis, or inflammation to the stomach.

A dolphin born on Feb 18 died within 15 minutes of its birth. Namtam's gastritis could have been caused by the aggressive behaviour of Pet, the male that the park's curators had hoped she would breed with. For the last two months, the pair had been isolated in a breeding pen, an enclosure in the lagoon, and Pet had been unexpectedly rough with Namtam.

A spokesman for Underwater World said: 'There was sudden aggression two to three days before her death. There had been aggression before this, but it had been subsiding. In fact, mating had been observed in the week prior to Namtam's death.' Namtam had been moved to a separate pen on March 4. But the next day, it went into shock, lost consciousness and died.

Its death means that the park now has only five pink dolphins left, two male and three female. Underwater World is the first marine park in Asia to have the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, an endangered species, in captivity. They are known as pink dolphins because of the pastel pink sheen of their skin. These dolphins were brought in from Thailand in November 1999.

The park is the first in the world to try breeding these dolphins in captivity. The breeding programme has suffered one setback after another. Of the new-born calf that died, the Underwater World spokesman said: 'The newborn's lungs could not expand. She did not manage to take her first breath.' Now, its mother, Pann, is in distress. She has been carrying a piece of seaweed on her back as a substitute for the calf she lost. 'If the calf were alive, it would be swimming above her back in a similar location where Pann draped the seaweed.

'She still displays mourning behaviour. She looks for her calf,' said the spokesman. Meanwhile, she said, the breeding must go on for the sake of conservation. 'We still believe that it is important to continue our breeding programme of this endangered species. According to studies, infant mortality rates of pink dolphins can be very high even in the wild,' she said. Namtam had been in quarantine when she died, so the impact does not appear to have hit the other dolphins yet.

But, the spokesman added: 'There is a deep sense of loss, especially among the trainers.