Beluga calf’s death the latest in series of losses at Georgia Aquarium

Hearts are grieving at the Georgia Aquarium.

Qinu, the pregnant beluga whale, lost her calf on Tuesday.

The 9-year-old, pale-skinned, arctic creature went into labor Tuesday morning, but experienced complications, according to a statement from the aquarium. The infant did not survive.

“The position and shape of the calf prevented the delivery and it was determined the calf had died before it had a chance to be born,” the aquarium said in a statement.

“Our veterinary and animal care teams intervened for the safety of Qinu and worked around the clock to carefully remove the calf.”

The death is the latest in a series of losses for the downtown attraction.

Two other newborn belugas have died at the aquarium, one in May 2012, the other in June 2015, both of them offspring of the facility’s beluga matriarch, Maris. Then Maris herself died in October of 2015 of heart failure.

She was 21.

Later in 2015 the aquarium announced it would abandon its plan to grow the beluga collection with wild-caught specimens.

For years the aquarium sought to bring wild-caught belugas into the United States from a facility in Russia. It applied for a permit to import the whales in 2012, investing millions in their care, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration denied the permit, writing that such an action could spur more international trade in the endangered ocean mammals.

>> RELATED VIDEO: Georgia Aquarium gives up fight to import beluga whales

Since then the aquarium’s breeding program has also hit setbacks.

Qinu, 9 years old, was a first-time mother. She was still an adolescent when she came to Atlanta from Sea World San Antonio in 2010. In June, aquarium officials announced she was pregnant.

Aquarium staff worked steadily for months to be ready for the birth, executing practice dives so that they would be prepared to intervene if necessary, and giving Qinu ultrasound exams. Over the past month they’ve manned an observation post 24 hours a day to keep tabs on the mother.

Calls to the aquarium were not returned Wednesday.

The calf was sired by Aurek, a 14-year-old male who arrived at the Georgia Aquarium in February 2016 from SeaWorld Orlando. The Georgia Aquarium welcomed two other whales that same month, 6-year-old male Nunavik and 10-year-old female Maple.

Belugas are often moved from one facility to another to facilitate breeding and study, according to Bill Van Bonn, vice president for animal health at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

After Georgia staff determined that Qinu was pregnant, they moved Aurek to the Shedd Aquarium to make room for the birth, said Van Bonn. The Shedd also houses Beethoven, a 25-year-old male beluga that sired Maris’ offspring.

The Chicago veterinarian said the survival rate for newborn belugas is around 50 percent, though it varies widely from place to place and population to population.

“What we do know about these animals’ birth process and physiology is what we’ve learned by taking care of them over these years,” said Van Bonn. “We do know that first-time moms tend to have more difficulty than moms who have been successful in the past.”

The Georgia Aquarium opened in November 2005 on the strength of a $250 million gift from Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot.

Since that time the attraction has powered a renaissance of downtown tourism, luring other attractions to locate nearby. The aquarium had 2.4 million visitors last year.

In addition to studying belugas in captivity, the aquarium has sent teams to do field research on beluga populations in Bristol Bay, Alaska, trying to determine the reasons for population losses in the wild.

The beluga exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium will remain closed for an indeterminate time.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Gwinnett trash, recycling pickup delayed for Thanksgiving
Gwinnett trash, recycling pickup delayed for Thanksgiving

You’re going to have to hang on to those empty bean cans and that turkey carcass for an extra day this week. Gwinnett County trash and recycling collection will be delayed due to Thanksgiving. Gwinnett County typically picks up trash and recycling on Thursdays and Fridays, but pickups will be pushed back one day due to the holiday. Customers...
The Jolt: Say good-bye to Confederate Avenue in Atlanta
The Jolt: Say good-bye to Confederate Avenue in Atlanta

Confederate flag runner Alan Keck (left) debates Grant Park resident Katie Kurumada (right) about the petition to change the name of Confederate Avenue last August. Keck runs in the park three days a week and is concerned about the heritage aspect of Confederate names and symbols. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM Atlanta Mayor...
‘Breakdown’ Season 6 begins: A Jury of His Peers
‘Breakdown’ Season 6 begins: A Jury of His Peers

The four men – two in each car – had a rendezvous at a gas station near I-285. Then they decided to drive both cars across the road to the new Burger King. It was a few minutes before midnight, closing time for the restaurant. The two vehicles pulled in. Two men got out of the black sedan – the car has never been identified &ndash...
Hotel and park to transform Georgia Dome site
Hotel and park to transform Georgia Dome site

The implosion of the Georgia Dome sets the stage for an overhaul of the Georgia World Congress Center campus that, coupled with planned future development in downtown Atlanta, could dramatically change the face of south and west downtown. In about a year, crews are expected to convert the old dome site into the Home Depot Backyard, a 13-acre green...
4th person arrested in double murder related to 1 of victims, GBI says
4th person arrested in double murder related to 1 of victims, GBI says

A fourth person has been arrested and is accused of killing his own relative in a shootout last week between more than a half-dozen people in Walton County. Jotavious "Lucky" Fredrick Gunn, 19, turned himself in at the Newton County jail Sunday night, the GBI said. Gunn faces two counts of felony murder and two counts of aggravated...
More Stories