ATLANTA -- One of Georgia Aquarium's most famous whales could have a new calf very soon.
The aquarium has closed its beluga whale exhibit temporarily to give Qinu privacy after she began showing signs of labor. Officials posted on Facebook around 10 a.m. on Tuesday that animal care and veterinary teams are already in place to help Qinu with delivery if needed. Officials said this is Qinu's first pregnancy.
"Early this morning she started giving us signs that she was going into labor," Senior Director of Zoological Operations Dennis Christen said. "And we've been watching her closely all day long, of course, and people have been following along."
As of 2:35 p.m., Qinu was still in labor as officials continued to watch for signs the new calf's fast-approaching arrival.
And at between 110 and 175 pounds, what a big baby this will be. According to a previous media release from Georgia Aquarium, pregnancies tend to last between 14 and 15 months for beluga whales so they've been waiting for quite a while for this birth.
"It's an exciting time and we're watching her really, really closely," Christen said.
In that time, care teams have been keeping a close eye on the pregnancy and even looking at the developing baby through ultrasound technology.
Late Tuesday, officials with the aquarium gave an update announcing that the calf was beginning to emerge with a fluke - or portion of the tail fin - sticking out.
"Once those flukes come out, we know that there is limited time left," Georgia Aquarium's Dr. Tonya Clauss said. "Qinu is pretty much in the home stretch at that point in time."
While it's an exciting moment for Georgia Aquarium, it's also a tense one underscored by a previous tragedy. Qinu's pregnancy is the first since the 2015 pregnancy of Maris, one of the aquarium's first beluga whales. Sadly, Maris lost her calf a few weeks after its birth. Maris also died later in the year of acute heart failure.