“What’s that?” “What’s that thing doing over there?” “What’s it for?” “How long does it stay there?” Common questions with a rather common answer. Over the next few months you may see a tall structure outside the beluga whale habitat in the Cold Water Quest gallery. Look closely and you’ll see animal care team members perched inside looking at the beluga whales, stopping periodically to jot down a note. It’s simple really: it’s an observation desk. But what is it doing there?
As our pregnant beluga whale, Qinu nears her due date, our animal care teams are observing her behavior 24 hours a day. This allows the team to monitor her body positioning, when she takes breath and how often, and other signs labor may be close. We do this to provide our teams with an uninterrupted view of her and our guests the ability to continue to view her and the other beluga whales.
Team members will take turns watching Qinu through the observation desk, 24 hours a day, seven days a week until she gives birth, and even after her calf is born to make sure both mom and calf are meeting milestones.
Since Qinu can’t tell us how she feels or if anything changes in her pregnancy, we have to rely on observations and detailed data, like ultrasounds and blood samples, taken over the last several months to understand and evaluate her health. “The information we gather from observations and ongoing veterinary care can give us insight into how Qinu is progressing and can better equip us to make decisions regarding her care,” said Dennis Christen, Senior Director of Zoological Operations. In addition to observing her, her dedicated animal care and veterinary team members have been providing her with exceptional care in every stage of her pregnancy.
Qinu is also part of an important research study headed by the Vancouver Aquarium. Each week, her animal care team measures her body and takes elevated photos as part of this ongoing research. Not only is this part of Qinu’s routine care, but she is providing important data to help researchers develop a way to determine pregnancy in wild belugas. They compare Qinu’s images and data taken throughout her pregnancy to aerial photos of wild belugas to assess pregnancy and overall body condition.