It’s Christmas season and for all those of you looking to the North Pole at this time of year, we have a very special series of blogs lined up! Every Monday leading up to Christmas we will highlight one Arctic species of cetacean. We are getting started with a whale as white as snow, the beluga whale.
Also known as: The White Whale, The Sea Canary.
Population: Over 150,000
Life Span: 30-50 years
Weight: Average 1,430 kg
Length: Average 4 m, but up to 5m
Appearance: A fairly small Odontocete, distinctively white in colouration. A
pronounced melon and no dorsal fin.
Habitat: Summer is spent in shallow bays and estuaries. In winter, areas of pack ice where wind and ocean currents keep open cracks for breathing holes.
Diet: Fish, crustaceans and molluscs
Did you know?
– Belugas can dive for up to 25 minutes and can reach depths of 800 m.
– The name beluga comes from the Russian word “bielo” for white. Delphinapterus means ‘dolphin-without-a-wing’ due to their lack of dorsal fin.
– Belugas are known as the “canaries of the sea” because of the vast range of sounds they produce, including; whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, and clicks.
– Belugas are well known for their ability to mimic sounds, sometimes even mimicking the sound of human speech!
– Every year belugas molt their outer most layer of skin, a unique feature amongst whales and dolphins.
Threats and Conservation Status
Historically Belugas have been hunted to the point of extinction in some areas, still today a number of animals are taken by subsistence hunters. Current threats include; Oil exploration, hydroelectric plants, and shipping accidents.
The beluga population under the most threat is that of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, which numbers between 500-700 individuals. These whales are prone to chemical contamination, pollutants appear to affect belugas more than other species of cetacean (probably due to diet variation). It is disturbing that, due to the high concentrations of contamination, belugas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are treated as toxic waste when they die.
Beluga whales, are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with the Cook Inlet sub population in Canada listed as Critically Endangered.
written by Vicky Taylor