The beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is also known as the “white whale” because its skin is milky white. It is the only type of whale that is all white. Moreover, it is grey when it is born, but this color changes slowly as it gets older. Furthermore, it is small and doesn’t have a fin on its back. Belugas are toothed whales with lips that can move in different ways to show different emotions.
They have wide flippers that look like paddles, and their tails are notched. They have very flexible necks and can turn their heads almost 90 degrees to the side. Their thick layer of blubber keeps them warm in the freezing waters of the Arctic. Their bodies are 50% fat, which is much more than other whales that don’t live in the Arctic, whose bodies are only 20% fat.
Beluga Whale Distribution
The Arctic and sub-Arctic parts of the Arctic Ocean are home to beluga whales. During the summer, they are mostly found in deep waters, especially along the coasts of Alaska, northern Canada, western Greenland, and northern Russia. Furthermore, their range goes as far south as isolated populations in the St. Lawrence River in the Atlantic, the Amur River delta, the Shantar Islands, and the waters around Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Most beluga groups spend the winter around the Arctic ice cap. Thus, when the sea ice melts in the summer, they move to warmer river estuaries and coastal areas. Moreover, some populations stay in one place and don’t move very far during the year. They live along the coast and in the seas next to it, preferring inlets, fjords, bays, channels, and shallow Arctic waters that are warmed by the sun all day long.
Beluga Whale Habits and Lifestyle
Beluga whales are social animals that are awake during the day. In the summer, thousands of them gather at the mouths of rivers to shed their skin. They rub themselves on the sand on the bottom of the ocean to get rid of their yellow, dry skin from the previous year and get white skin again. At this time, groups of females with babies tend to get together, while large groups of single males get together.
Baluga whales can dive more than 1,000 m deep, but they swim slowly on the surface most of the time. During the winter, they may need to make holes in the ice so they can breathe. They do this with their big heads. Belugas are some of the whales that make the most noise. They use their sounds to echolocate, find mates, and talk to each other. They can make a lot of different sounds, up to 11 of them, like cackles, whistles, trills, and squawks.
Diet: What Do Beluga Whales Eat?
Belugas are carnivores (they eat meat) and eat smelt, flatfish, flounder, salmon, sculpins, and cod, among other things. They also eat creatures that live on the seabed, like crabs, clams, shrimp, worms, octopuses, squid, and others.
Beluga whales have more than one female partner. During mating season, a dominant male will often mate with more than one female. Moreover, mating season is from the end of February to the beginning of April. The pregnancy lasts 14 months, and only one calf is born. The calf is precocial and has a greyish color. Furthermore, the individuals in the nursery pod stay together until the baby is born, and then everyone leaves except for a teenage nursemaid.
Moreover, most births happen near rivers because the water temperature is 10 degrees higher there. This is for the calf’s benefit since it has less fat than an adult. The baby stays between the two adults. As they swim, the current pulls him along with them. A calf needs its mother’s milk for the first year of its life, which can last up to 1.5 to 2 years. Moreover, females reach sexual maturity between the ages of 4 and 7 years, while males do so between the ages of 7 and 9 years.
Beluga Whale Population
In some parts of their range, Inuit and Alaska Native groups are the biggest threat to belugas because they hunt them. Other dangers come from the pollution of river estuaries, the spread of diseases, and the disruption caused by ship traffic, oil and gas production, and infectious diseases. Furthermore, noise is becoming more of a problem because it can hurt a whale’s hearing and make it harder for it to find its way, communicate, and find food.
The IUCN Red List says that there are 136,000 adults in the beluga whale population as a whole. On the IUCN Red List, this species is present as Least Concern (LC), which means that it is not in danger.
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Beluga Whale Facts
- Belugas can swim backward.
- By blowing air around their sinuses, belugas can change the shape of their “melon” foreheads.
- Every year, young beluga whales go back to places where they were with their mothers. They remember and bond with these places.
- People call belugas “canaries of the sea” because they make so many different sounds, like whistles, squeals, moos, clicks, and chirps. Furthermore, they also talk to each other by bumping into each other, rubbing against each other, chasing each other, and playing games.
- Balooga whale dives can last up to 25 minutes and go as deep as 800 meters.
- The word “beluga” is from the word “bielo” in Russian, which means “white.”
- Belugas can see both in and out of the water, but their eyesight isn’t as good as that of dolphins.
Are Beluga Whales Friendly
Beluga whales have a reputation for having warm personalities & strong social bonds, and they typically travel in groups of 10 or more during the winter.
Do Beluga Whales Have Knees
The beluga whale does not have knees, yet its massive belly fat pads along its front can be easily mistaken for beluga whale knees. In order to keep their balance while swimming, beluga whales frequently flex their fat pads, which causes them to protrude like the beluga whale knees.
Where Do Beluga Whales Live
The Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas in the Northern Hemisphere are home to beluga whales. Moreover, they can be found all over Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Greenland’s neighboring countries. During the summer, belugas can often swim in shallow waters along the coast.
Are Beluga Whales Endangered
The beluga whale is classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (the species faces a high risk of extinction).
Do Beluga Whales Bite Humans?
In most cases, beluga whales will avoid attacking people. However, they may resort to violent self-defense if they feel they are being harassed or endangered. Although beluga whales’ aggressive tendencies have been well-documented, no such attacks on people have been reported.
Is Beluga A Dolphin Or A Whale?
The beluga does not have a relationship with the dolphins in the sea because it is a toothed whale. The Monodontidae family includes only the beluga and the narwhal because of their unique snout shapes.
What Is Special About Beluga Whales?
The beluga whale’s distinctive white color and round head make it instantly recognizable. Travelers to Churchill, Canada, will have the chance to witness pods of belugas numbering in the hundreds. Apart from this, belugas are among the most talkative whales, earning them the nickname “sea canaries.”
Did Beluga Whales Have Legs?
The baluga whale lacks the ability to walk on land. Moreover, marine mammals present in the Arctic and sub-Arctic icy seas, have these symmetrical, bone-like traits for a reason.
Parvaiz Yousuf is a senior SEO writer and editor with an experience of over 6 years, who also doubles up as a researcher. With an MSc zoology degree under his belt and possessing complete Search Engine Optimization (SEO) knowledge, he works as a science journalist for a US-based website and Asian Scientist (A Singapore-based magazine). He also works as Director of Wetland Research Centre, Wildlife Conservation Fund YPJK since 2018. Besides, he has several publications to his name on cancer biology and biochemistry in some reputed journals such as Nature & International Journal of Molecular Sciences, & magazines such as Science Reporter, BUCEROS BNHS, and has an abiding interest in ornithology. He also worked as a Research Associate for JK Policy Institute.