Facts about Beluga Whales
The beluga whale is the smallest whale in the world. It lives in the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean and in subarctic regions. When the water temperature drops sharply (and ice begins to form), the belugas migrate south, where the water is warmer. The commercial fishing of belugas for meat and skin is almost completely wiping out some beluga populations. Other threats to belugas’ survival include marine pollution, climate change (sudden water freezes or rising water temperatures) and oil. Belugas are classified as threatened (almost endangered) because of all these factors.
Also known as “sea canaries,” belugas are one of the most the most vocal of all whales.
Belugas are the smallest of all whales. They look like large dolphins, reaching 13 to 20 feet in length and 2000 to 3000 pounds of weight.
The beluga is closely related to the narwhal; they are the only two members of the Monodontidae family.
Belugas are easily recognized by the white color of their skin and bulbous forehead (called “melon”).
Beluga whales’ dives may last up to 25 minutes and can reach depths of 800 meters.
They can change the shape of the forehead by blowing the air through the sinuses in the head.
The word beluga comes from the Russian word “bielo” meaning white. However, these white whales are born dark gray. It can take up to eight years before they turn completely white.
Like in other mammals, surface of the beluga’s skin is covered with hairs.
The beluga is able to swim backwards.
Beluga’s heart weighs 12 pounds. Few years ago, one beluga saved distressed participant in the free-diving competition by pushing it back to the surface of the water to grab much needed air. This humane act showed that belugas are truly big-hearted animals.
The beluga can change the shape of its bulbous forehead, called a “melon”, by blowing air around its sinuses.
Vertebrae in the beluga’s neck are not fused, which allow animal to rotate its head freely and move it in all directions.
In 2009, a captive beluga whale rescued a distressed participant of a free diving competition by pushing her to the surface.
Belugas do not have dorsal fin as an adaptation to the life in very cold waters. Since every part of the beluga’s body radiates heat to the environment, elimination of the fin helps in preservation of at least part of the heat. Instead of dorsal fin, belugas has dorsal ridge.
Belugas, like other arctic whales, do not have dorsal fins (a dorsal fin causes extra heat loss and would be a major hindrance in the arctic ice), but they do have a tough dorsal ridge.
Another adaptation to the life in freezing water is thick layer of blubber (3.9. to 5.9 inches) and thick skin. Their skin was used in the manufacture of first types of bulletproof vests.
The vertebrae in a beluga’s neck is not fused together, giving it the unusual ability to turn its head up, down and side-to-side.
Beluga can stay 25 minutes under the water (without reaching the surface for air), and dive to the depth of 0.5 miles.
They also have a thick layer of blubber that insulates them from the icy arctic waters.
Belugas are social animals. They live in groups called “pods”.
Polar bears and killer whales are known predators of belugas throughout their Arctic range.
Belugas are very vocal animals. They use wide range of sounds, such as clicks, whistles and clangs, in communication. Belugas can also mimic other sounds they hear. Because of the loud noise they produce, belugas are also known as the “canaries of the sea”.
Beluga whales live in Arctic waters and sometimes venture into freshwater rivers.
Belugas are carnivores (meat eaters) which like to eat shrimps, fish and sea worms.
Beluga whales shed their skin each summer by rubbing against coarse gravel.
When water freeze suddenly, animals end-up trapped in the ice and die. Besides that, belugas are often preyed by polar bears and killer whales.
Belugas feed on fish, crustaceans, and worms.
Although belugas are known by their white skin, they are grey, brown or black in color at birth. Their skin starts fading after couple of years, when they reach sexual maturity (between 5 and 8 years).
The beluga is not related to the sturgeon of the same name, which has been heavily fished for its famous caviar.
Belugas are born in estuaries (places where river meets the ocean) which are muddy. Dark color of the baby beluga helps it hide from the predators and survive the early years of its life. Young beluga is closely associated with its mother and it rides on her back while moving through the water.
Belugas are toothed whales.
Average lifespan of beluga in the wild is between 35 to 50 years.