This fall, Georgia Aquarium’s beluga whale Qinu is expecting her first calf! Our veterinary and animal care teams work together daily to monitor the health and progress of both mother and calf. As part of that care, our teams welcomed Dr. Jose Lopez-Zeno from Northside Hospital, an OB-GYN with a subspecialty in maternal-fetal medicine. After meeting with Dr. Gregory Bossart, Georgia Aquarium’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Lopez-Zeno expressed an interest in marine life and working alongside our animal teams to care for Qinu.

Learn more about Dr. Lopez-Zeno and his experience at Georgia Aquarium:

Q: How is it different or how is it the same when you look at the ultrasound of a beluga versus the ultrasound of a human?

Lopez-Zeno: “Like humans, the beluga is also a mammal! We’re able to visualize amniotic fluid, placenta, and umbilical cord, so in a sense, we look for the same parameters as a human.”

Q: What are some of the challenges you have experienced?

Lopez-Zeno: “There are many challenges doing an ultrasound on a pregnant beluga. First, you cannot communicate with the patient to get the patient to come closer to you or re-accommodate if needed. Second, the period of time that we can do the ultrasound is very limited because the whale will move more than a person. Third, the beluga has a lot of subcutaneous tissue, what is referred to as the blubber, and that degrades the quality of the ultrasound. Therefore, the images of the beluga whale fetus is very limited when compared to that of humans. The other big challenge is that the fetus of a beluga is many times longer than that of a human fetus.”

Q: What has been your favorite part of this experience?

Lopez-Zeno: “My favorite part of this experience is more of a three-tier experience. Number one, being involved in the Aquarium, helping them take excellent care of Qinu and all of the animals they have here. Number two, my children. I have soon-to-be 13-year-old triplets and they’re being exposed to all of this for the first time. One of them now wants to be a veterinarian. They’re animal and nature lovers, and to me it has been an eye-opening experience to see them being thrilled and highly motivated just by being here. The third is my own personal satisfaction. I was a biology major in college and within that I tend to prefer marine biology so it has been like a completion of a circle for me.”

Q: What is your impression about the level of medical care that Qinu has been receiving?

Lopez-Zeno: “The level of medical care rendered by the staff of Georgia Aquarium to their animals is outstanding. I did my fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago where they have the Shedd Aquarium, which until this one opened, used to be the largest one in the world. Over there I took a few courses on fish pathology as a personal interest, and I got to see the staff and the facility, and it’s an absolute superb facility, but what they have been able to accomplish here in Atlanta is equal to the care of the best human hospital. Beluga whales are very graceful, peaceful animals and are very gentle. Working with the team at Georgia Aquarium, doing the ultrasounds on the beluga whale Qinu is really a dream ultrasound. It’s really a great treat to be of help to the teams here.”