|The Beluga Whale, Delphinapterus leucas Common Names: The name beluga is derived from the russian word ÒbelukhaÓ literally meaning “white one”. They are also known as the white whale, the white porpoise, the sea canary, and the white squidhound.
General DescriptionAdults are completely white, preventing them from being mistaken for any other species of whale. However, the young are gray or brown in color until age 5. They have stout bodies with short, broad, paddle shaped flippers and a broad tail fluke. The beluga has a dorsal ridge instead of a fin, a bulbous head, a small discernible beak, and a blowhole to the left of the midline. Their field mark is a white mound-like lump that can be seen on the surface of the water. The adult male is 5m or 16ft. in length and 1000kg or 2400 lbs., the female is slightly smaller.
Life Span 35-50 years.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat Requirements These whales are most commonly found in the arctic, however, they are occasionally seen in the Atlantic provinces and on the coast of New England. The total world population for the beluga is between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is the home for 300-500 white whales. Some of which have strayed to the Bay of Fundy where there is a herd of approximately 50. Beluga whales prefer shallow coastal waters, rivers and estuaries presumably because this is where migrating Atlantic salmon are situated. Their diet consists of squid, octopus, schooling fish (capelin, cod, salmon, etc.) and crustaceans. Adults eat approximately 25kg (55lbs.) of food per day.
Reproduction The breeding season is between June and August, copulation often occuring in small bays. The gestation period is 14 months after which calving occurs in warm waters. At birth, babies are 1.5m or 5ft long. They can be delivered either head or tail first. Twins are rare. The female lactates for 20 months. The period between calving is 3-4 years. Beluga adolescents are sexually mature around age 8-9 for males and 4-7 for females
BehaviorThe beluga has a highly developed echolocation sense that is most likely an adaptation caused by the murky waters of the arctic which is also home to the summer plankton bloom. Sight, for beluga whales, is therefore of little use. The echolocation adaptation of beluga whales allows them to capture prey, detect predators, navigate, and locate breathing holes in the ice. These white whales are a considerably curious specimen, they are know to approach boats and are generally very curious about humankind. Their predators are killer whales, polar bears, and of course, humans.
The beluga is a herd animal existing in assemblages of 2-25 individuals termed pods. The average pod size is 10. These mammals are very social, often chasing each other and rubbing against each other. The beluga is very vocal, hence their nickname Òthe sea canaryÓ. Their larynx does not posses vocal cords. Sound is produced by air moving in between the nasal sacs in the blowhole region. Their melon distorts during noise production. The beluga whale is the only whale known to make facial expressions. Mothers and her offspring tend to remain in calmer, shallow waters with sand, gravel, and mud substrate; whereas others inhabit deeper, colder niches. A beluga can remain underwater for 15-20 minutes at one time. They travel up to 3 km. in one dive