This whale's common name comes
from the Russian word for "white,"
which is very appropriate since it is the only
all-white whale in the world. Its genus name
means "whale without fins," referring
to the Beluga's lack of dorsal fins and short,
rounded, wide flippers.
The beluga is one of the few
cetaceans to have a well-defined neck and unfused
neck vertebrae, meaning it can move its head in
any direction. The head itself is melon-shaped,
with a pronounced "beak."
One of the smaller members of
whale order, the beluga averages 13-20 feet in
length and weighs 2,975-3,300 pounds, with males
being larger than females.
Belgua whales inhabit arctic and sub-arctic
waters along the coast of Canada, Alaska,
Greenland, Norway, and the Soviet Union. Their
habitat includes inlets, fjords, channels, bays,
and the shallow waters of the arctic seas that
are warmed by continuous sunlight. They are also
found at the mouths of rivers during summertime,
where they feed, socialize, and deliver their
Belugas are opportunistic feeders, taking a
variety of fish, marine molluscs, worms, octopus,
squid, and other bottom dwelling creatures. Since
their teeth are relatively small, belugas must
use suction to trap prey in their mouths. They
must also swallow their food whole, so prey size
is limited by the size of the whale's throat.
The mating season runs from late February into
early April. The males chase down the females,
making all sorts of noises. The male throws down
his tail and bends violently, then he throws his
head up and down as his melon vibrates to ward
off any other males who might attempt to mate
with this female. Once a bond has been formed,
the male and female swim in harmony and caress
each other, until she swims underneath his belly.
She puts her belly up against his and they
continue to swim in harmony with each other. They
mate only with absolute consent.
A single calf is born after a gestation of
about 14 months. Births usually take place in
estuaries because the water tends to be 10 or
more degrees warmer, and are usually
"attended" by a "midwife."
The calf is about 5 feet long and grayish in
color, and can swim almost immediately after
birth. It is totally dependent on the mother's
milk for a year, but lactation lasts 1.5 to 2
It takes 4-7
years for females to sexually mature, 7-9 years
for males. Females reproduce every 2-3 years, and
stop reproducing in their early twenties. Life
span in the wild is 32-40 years.
Belugas live in pods of 2-25 individuals. How
pods come together is unknown, but age and sex
seem to play some role. Several pods may come
together during migrations, forming herds that
can number into the hundreds or thousands.
Five to ten percent of a beluga's time is
spent at the surface of the water. They are
rarely seen breeching, although they will
"bounce" vertically out of the water
about one third of the body length. With an
average maximum speed of about 6 miles per hour,
belugas are fairly slow swimmers. They are,
however, one of the very few whales capable of
Belugas are constantly vocalizing and swimming
around, over, and under each other. They also
play with objects in the water, together or by
Considered one of the most vocal species of
cetaceans, their voices sound like chirps,
whistles, and squawks, which is why they are
sometimes called "sea canaries."
Belugas also use body language such as grinding
their teeth or splashing around.
genus & species Delphinapterus leucas
Animal Diversity Web
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