Young Bottlenose Dolphin Joins the Texas State Aquarium as Long-time Resident Dolphin Returns Home

March 24, 2022

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX – On March 21, the Texas State Aquarium (TSA) welcomed Merlin, an 8-year-old bottlenose dolphin from Brookfield Zoo, which is 14 miles west of Chicago, IL. That same morning, the TSA marine mammal team said goodbye to long-time resident of the Aquarium, Kai, a 27-year-old bottlenose dolphin who spent the last 16 years at the Aquarium. Veterinary and Animal Care staff accompanied both Merlin and Kai on their journeys and monitored the animals during the flights between Chicago and Corpus Christi.

Kai came to TSA in 2006 as part of a cooperative dolphin program between accredited zoos and aquariums. Kai was born at Brookfield Zoo in October of 1994 and is currently the oldest living dolphin that was born at the zoo. Kai will be rejoining several resident dolphins, who he may remember from his 12 years spent there. 

“It is common for AZA partner facilities to relocate dolphins based on the changing needs of individual animals, and we agree that this decision will be the best for Kai,” said Emma Gilbert, Director of Animal Care at the Texas State Aquarium, “We are sad to see him go, but we know that he will be in great hands at Brookfield Zoo.” 

As part of the cooperative program, TSA has accepted a young male dolphin, Merlin, to join the pod with TSA dolphins Shadow, Liko, and Schooner. Merlin will be paired with Schooner, who is just a few years older and has a similar playful personality. 

“We know that young juvenile dolphins, especially young males, leave their maternal group to spend increasingly more time with other animals their age, which is a normal milestone in a dolphin’s life,” said Rita Stacey, vice president of animal programs for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. 

Prior to the dolphins’ moves, an animal care specialist from Brookfield Zoo visited the Aquarium to spend time with Kai, and a marine mammal senior trainer from TSA spent time at the zoo with Merlin. Animal care teams at both organizations have been closely monitoring the animals’ welfare throughout this process and will continue to share information as the two dolphins acclimate to their new environments. Monitoring includes indications such as endocrine biomarkers, behavioral observations, body condition scores, and more. Animal care staff from both the Texas State Aquarium and Brookfield Zoo have accompanied the dolphins across the country and will stay with the dolphins for some time to ensure they acclimate to their new homes. TSA and Brookfield Zoo have a long history of partnership and are committed to providing the very best care and welfare to these two individual dolphins. 

At the Aquarium, Merlin will first be introduced to Schooner before being introduced to Shadow and Liko. Once Merlin has acclimated to his new home at the Aquarium, guests will be able to see him at Dolphin Bay. 


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The Texas State Aquarium (TSA), the Official Aquarium of the State of Texas, is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) institution that is fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Its mission is to engage people with animals, inspire appreciation for our seas and support wildlife conservation. TSA, the largest Aquarium in Texas, cares for over 4,000 animals and has been named the #5 Aquarium in North America by USA Today. Learn more at

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