Beluga Whale Facts
- The Beluga Whale, also popular as white whale and Delphinapterus leucas, is an extremely distinctive whale, and an Arctic and sub-Arctic cetacean.
- It is one of two members of the family Monodontidae, along with the narwhal, and the only member of the genus Delphinapterus.
- This white whale is famous as melonhead, beluga or sea canary due to its high-pitched twitter.
- The Delphinapterus leucas adapted to life in the Arctic, so has a number of anatomical and physiological characteristics that differentiate it from other cetaceans.
- Among these are its unmistakable all-white coloring, and the absence of a dorsal fin.
Beluga Whale Physical Description
The beluga’s body size is between that of a dolphin’s and a true whale’s, with males growing to a length of approximately 18 ft (5.5 m) long and weighing up to 3,500 lbs (1,600 kg).
The white whale has a stocky body as well as the greatest percentage of blubber. Its sense of hearing is highly developed and thanks to the echolocation, it can move about and find blowholes under sheet ice.
Its body is round, particularly when well fed and tapers less smoothly to the head than the tail. The sudden tapering to the base of its neck gives it the appearance of shoulders, unique among cetaceans.
The tail fin grows and becomes increasingly and ornately curved as the animal ages. The flippers are broad and short, making them almost square-shaped.
It also possesses a distinctive protuberance at the front of its head which houses an echolocation organ called the melon. In this animal, that organ is large and deformable.
Species: D. leucus
Beluga Whale Distribution and Behavior
Belugas remain gregarious and form groups of up to 10 animals on average. During the summer months, individuals can gather in the hundreds or even thousands in estuaries and shallow coastal areas.
The species is a slow swimmer but can dive down to as much as 2,300 ft (700 m) below the surface of the ocean.
Delphinapterus leucas are opportunistic feeders and its diet varies according to the locations and the season. It mainly eats fish, crustaceans and other deep-sea invertebrates.
The majority of belugas live in the Arctic and the seas and coasts around North America, Russia, and Greenland. Its worldwide population is thought to number around 150,000 individuals.
The animals are migratory and the majority of groups spend the winter around the Arctic ice cap. When the sea ice melts in summer, most move to warmer river estuaries and coastal areas. Some populations are sedentary and do not migrate over great distances during the year.
Unfortunately, Belugas are one of the cetaceans most commonly kept in captivity in aquariums and wildlife parks in North America, Europe, and Asia. It remains popular with the public due to its color and expressiveness. We do not approve of anybody keeping wild animals for entertainment.
Beluga Whale and Integumentary Distinctiveness
The adult Beluga rarely gets mistaken for any other species because it is completely white or whitish-grey in color. Calves, however, are usually gray and by the time they are a month old, they have turned dark gray or blue-gray.
These then start to progressively lose their pigmentation until they attain their distinctive white coloration, at the age of seven years in females and 9 in males.
The white coloration of the skin is an adaptation to living among ice in the Arctic that allows belugas to camouflage themselves in the polar ice caps as protection against their main predators, polar bears, and killer whales.
Unlike other cetaceans, a beluga seasonally sheds its skin. During the winter the epidermis thickens and the skin can become yellowish, mainly on the back and fins. When it migrates to the estuaries during the summer, it rubs itself on the gravel of the riverbeds to remove the cutaneous covering.