/ ©: WWF

Belugas

Belugas are extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in pods, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales.
Their bulbous forehead, called a "melon", is flexible and capable of changing shape. This allows them to make different facial expressions and produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals, which give the beluga its other name, "the canary of the sea." These songs are probably used to communicate with other beluga and to help them find food through echolocation.

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  • scientific name

    Delphinapterus leucas

  • weight

    700-1600 kg

  • length

    2.6 to 6.7 m

  • status

    near threatened

Where do belugas live?

Most populations of beluga migrate.
  • In autumn, they move south as the ice forms in the Arctic.
  • In spring, they return to their northern feeding areas when the ice breaks up
  • In summer, they are often found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river. One beluga in Alaska was spotted 1000km inland, swimming up the Yukon River.
However, a few populations do not follow this migratory pattern, including those in the Cook Inlet, Alaska and the St. Lawrence estuary in Canada.

What do belugas eat?

  • salmon
  • capelin
  • herring
  • shrimp
  • arctic cod
  • flounder
  • crabs
  • molluscs
They feed in open water (pelagic) and bottom (benthic) habitats, in both shallow and deepwater areas. Belugas have been recorded diving to more than 350 metres to feed.

How long do belugas live?

Tooth sectioning studies show that beluga whales typically live 30 to 35 years. Belugas can become trapped by freezing ice and starve or suffocate. Polar bears hunt belugas, especially if the whale is trapped in a small "lead" or open water.

Beluga whales and hunting

Subsistence hunting is practised by many circumpolar indigenous peoples. The skin and fat of the beluga is an important traditional food in the cultures of many northern peoples. Further research still needs to be done on beluga populations and care needs to be taken so stocks are not depleted through over-hunting.

Beluga conservation

While beluga whales are not considered an endangered species, the loss of habitat, as humans build on and along coastlines, puts the beluga at risk. Toxics and pollution are also a threat to belugas.
 / ©: WWF
Beluga range map, 2013
© WWF

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