Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family:    Monodontidae
Size:    Length 11 to 18 feet (3 to 5 m)
Weight: 1,500 to 3,300 pounds (680 to 1497 kg)
Diet: Fish and crustaceans
Distribution: Northern coastal waters
Young:  1, every 2 to 3 years
Animal Predators:  Killer whales and polar bears
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
Terms: Young: Calf   Male: Bull   Female: Cow   Group: Pod
Lifespan: 30 to 40 years



·      The scientific name Delphinapterus leucas means “white dolphin without a fin.”

·      Beluga is from the Russian word “belukha,” which comes from “belii,” meaning white.

·      Belugas are sometimes called “sea canaries” because of their high-pitched vocalizations.



Belugas have a lump on their head made up of mostly fat. The lump is called a melon, and the size of the melon is an indication of the animal’s health. For example, captive belugas usually have a flat melon, indicating a lack of vigour and health, due to the stress of performing and the quality of the water. They are relatively small whales, and adults are white in colour. They have a stout body, a small beak and tiny eyes. 



Beluga whales live and breed in the waters of the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, Beaufort Sea, Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They frequent shallow coastal waters, and sometimes are washed up on shore during low tide, but will make their way back to sea during the next high tide. 


Feeding Habits

Belugas feed on a variety of approximately 100 different kinds of fish and crustaceans, swallowing them whole.



Dominant males mate with several different females. The pregnancy lasts 14 to 15 months, and the young calf is a dark colour, such as brown, blue or black. They are approximately four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) in length and 100 to 140 pounds (45 to 64 kg). Nursing mothers form exclusive pods while their calves are young. As they age, the calves slowly lighten, becoming grayish-blue when they reach one year, and fading to white by the time they are six years of age. Calves are weaned by two, are mature at seven to nine and have grown to full size by 10 years. 



Belugas are social mammals that live in pods—small family groups of up to 25 whales. Members of the pod hunt, travel and play together. Belugas are gregarious and curious animals that will even swim up to humans to have a closer look. They communicate with a range of vocalizations, from a roar to a chirp, as well as facial expressions.



From 1880 to 1950, as many as 15,000 belugas were taken from the St. Lawrence River by the Beluga fishing industry. There are now approximately 1200 Belugas in the St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence River population, as well as the Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound population and the Ungava Bay population are considered endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.  They have also listed the Eastern Hudson Bay population as threatened and the Eastern High Arctic / Baffin Bay population are listed as special concern. Whaling in Canadian waters is now prohibited by The Canadian Whaling Regulations. Another concern for belugas is that they have become popular aquarium attractions because of their friendly, outgoing qualities and their intelligence. In their natural state, belugas swim many miles every day, but that cannot be duplicated in a tank.  



Beluga Whale Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US