The beluga is also called the white whale because of its milky white skin and is the only whale species that is completely white. It is gray when born and this color fades gradually with age. It is small in size and lacks a dorsal fin. Belugas are toothed whales, with flexible lips that can produce a range of facial expressions.
They have wide, paddle-like flippers and notches in their tails. Their necks are extremely flexible and they can turn their heads almost 90 degrees sideways. The extremely thick layer of blubber of beluga whales provides insulation in freezing Arctic waters. Their bodies are fifty percent fat, much higher than other non-Arctic whales, with a body fat of only twenty percent. Get full knowledge about white whales with the help of Priitsh Kumar Halder’s article.
Beluga whales occur in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters of the Arctic Ocean. During the summer,
they can mainly be found in deep waters, particularly along the coasts of Alaska, northern Canada, western Greenland, and northern Russia. The southernmost extent of their range includes isolated populations in the St. Lawrence River in the Atlantic, the Amur River delta, the Shantar Islands, and the waters surrounding Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Belugas are migratory and the majority of groups spend the winter around the Arctic ice cap. When the sea ice melts in summer, they move to warmer river estuaries and coastal areas. Some populations are sedentary and do not migrate over great distances during the year. coastal areas, as well as the adjoining seas, preferring inlets, fjords, bays, channels, and the shallow Arctic waters warmed by continuous sunlight.
Habits and Lifestyle
Beluga whales are diurnal and very social animals. During summer, thousands of them gather together in river estuaries to molt. They rub their bodies on the gravel of the sea bed to shed their yellow, withered skin from the previous year and to again become gleaming white. At this time, females with babies will often group together, while males gather in large bachelor groups.
Belugas are able to dive deeper than 1,000 m, but usually, they are found upon the surface, swimming slowly. During winter it may become necessary to form breathing holes amongst the ice, which they do with their heavy heads. Belugas are among the most vocal cetaceans. They use their vocalizations for echolocation, during mating, and for communication. They possess a large repertoire, emitting up to 11 different sounds, such as cackles, whistles, trills, and squawks.
Diet and Nutrition
Belugas are carnivores (piscivores, molluscivores) and eat a variety of prey, such as smelt, flatfish, flounder, salmon, sculpins, and cod. They also eat invertebrates such as crabs, clams, shrimps, worms, octopus, squid, and more creatures that live on the seabed.
Beluga whales are polygynous, a dominant male often mating with several females during one mating season. The mating season takes place between late February and early April. Gestation lasts 14 months
and a single calf is produced. The calf has a grayish color and is very well developed. The nursery pod stays together during the delivery, then all of them move off except for a teenage nursemaid.
Birthing usually takes place near rivers because the temperature of the water is ten degrees higher there. This is for the benefit of the calf, which has less blubber than a full-grown adult. The newborn stays between the two females, their swimming pulling him along with the current. A calf totally depends on its mother’s milk for one year, and lactation lasts as long as 1.5 to 2 years. Females become reproductively mature in 4 to 7 years, and males in 7 to 9 years of age.
Hunting by Inuit and Alaska Native groups is the biggest known threat to belugas across certain portions of their range. Further threats are contamination of river estuaries, infectious diseases, and disturbance by vessel transport, gas, and oil production. An increasing concern is a noise,
which can damage a whale’s hearing and affect its ability to navigate, communicate, and locate prey.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total size of the beluga whale population is 136,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
- Beluga whale offspring return to places where they have been with their mothers, who they remember and bond with year after year.
- Belugas are called “canaries of the sea,” due to the vast range of sounds they produce, including whistles, squeals, moos, clicks, and chirps. Besides vocal communication they also communicate by means of rubbing or bumping against each other, chasing each other, and playing games.
- This Beluga whales’ dives can go as deep as 800 meters and may be for up to 25 minutes.
- The word “beluga” is from the Russian “bielo” meaning “white”.
- Belugas can swim backward.
- This whales can alter the shape of their forehead, known as a “melon”, by means of blowing air around their sinuses.
- Belugas are able to see within and outside of water, but their vision is relatively poor when compared to dolphins.