This small whale belongs to the toothed whale family and is easily identified by its dome shaped head, short beak and white coloring.
Beluga whales are very social marine animals and are often found in the arctic ocean’s coastal waters traveling, foraging and socializing in both small and large pods.
These whales can generally be seen communicating with one another using a series of high pitched clicks and whistles and like other toothed whales the beluga whale uses echolocation to search for food and navigate the ocean.
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
At birth the beluga whale is born with either dark grey or brownish skin coloring that fades to a white color as they reach maturity.
When fully grown beluga whales on average weigh between 2,000 – 3,500 pounds and grow to an average length of 10 – 17 ft. long, however large males may occasionally exceed 18 ft. in length during adulthood.
As with other toothed whale species female beluga whales generally grow to be slightly smaller than their male counterparts.
In terms of appearance the beluga has a fairly stock body with rounded dome-shaped head, however the body tapers down towards the rear near its flukes.
When compared to other species of whale the beluga has more flexibility in its neck which allows it to observe more of its environment.
Also unlike other whale species the beluga lacks a dorsal fin, but instead has a ridge where the dorsal fin would normally be located.
In order to navigate the ocean the belugas flippers resemble paddles that help it steer and turn and its rear flukes help the whale propel itself through the water.
Due to the fact that the beluga whale lives in the arctic these marine mammals have developed a thick layer of insulated blubber to protect their vital organs from the freezing waters.
In fact a beluga whales blubber can weigh over
In order to maintain their energy these whales may consume on average between 2 % – 3 % of their body weight on a daily basis or 40 lbs. to 70 lbs. of food daily.
Children on the other hand are nursed and fed milk by their mother until they can hunt for food on their own and separate from their maternal bond.
When foraging for food beluga whales often hunt for their prey at or near the bottom of shallow coastal shores and will hunt cooperatively in pods of 5 or more whales in order to herd their prey together into tight balls where they can isolate and attack it.
During deep dives these marine mammals can reach depths of up to 2,300 ft. when searching for food.
To help these whales when diving for food at night or in deep water beluga are equipped with echolocation which helps them navigate the ocean, search for food and coordinate hunting strategies.
Echolocation allows beluga to obtain information about their surroundings using sound rather than sight.
The sounds they create can tell them the direction, speed, size and density of the objects around them by measuring the time it takes the emitted sounds to return to them.
This lets the beluga whale know whether the object is food, a predator or an obstacle so that they can make an informed decision regarding hunting or avoiding the object they have located and identified.
Beluga whales are often found swimming in shallow coastal water in the arctic.
They can be seen traveling in pods containing anywhere from two to several hundred beluga whales and in certain occurrences these pods may form larger pods that number in the thousands.
Depending on the area and environment they live in some beluga whales will make seasonal migration trips while others will only travel within a small localized area.
Due to their thick layer of blubber these whales can navigate through the arctic at temperatures as low as 0-c (-32 f).
During the colder months when the arctic water freezes over most beluga whales will migrate south to avoid getting trapped in the frozen ice.
Beluga whales are very social and create high-pitched twitter noises in order to communicate with one another.
The exact meaning of these noises is unknown however it is likely used to signal warnings or important information such as the location of a nearby food source or an interest to mate among other things.
In addition to using vocal communication these marine mammals may also communicate by bumping or rubbing against each other, chasing one another and playing games together.
Although beluga mostly travel in pods they will often separate from one pod and move to another not staying locked down to any one group of whales for an extended period of time.
As stated earlier pods can range anywhere from 2 – 100 or more during feeding and may aggregate into larger groups that can include thousands of beluga during particular social engagements, however in most cases the male beluga whales tend to stick to pods of less than a dozen whales.
Most pods are made up of males that have formed a bond with each other or a group of female whales that travel together with their children.
The average gestation period (the period between conception and birth) for beluga whales lasts between 12 -15 months.
Females whales give birth to a single calf once every 3 years on average.
Newborns are often born just under three ft. long and can remain nursed by their mothers for up to two years.
Nursing typically involves the mother caring for her child and feeding it milk from her nipples.
The milk that the baby beluga receives is full of fat and nutrients that help the child develop during its early stage of life.
Beluga whales mature between the ages of 4 – 9 and then may be begin mating and producing their own offspring.
In terms of lifespan beluga can live to be 50 years old, however some estimates point to these marine mammals living until the age of 80.
10 Extraordinary beluga whale facts
- Beluga whales are marine mammals which means they are warm-blooded, breathe air, produce milk to feed their young and give birth.
- These marine mammals have adapted to living in cold climates by developing a thick layer of insulated blubber, having a highly sensitive echolocation system and acute sense of hearing, developing a thick stocky body (to help maintain body heat) and having completely white skin (which may be used to blend in with their environment and/or assist with absorbing light/heat).
- The scientific name for the beluga whale is, “Delphinapterus leucas”.
- While the maximum amount of time a beluga whale can hold its breath for is unknown they have been recorded holding their breath for over 17 minutes.
- Beluga whales are known to face threats from natural predators such as killer whales and polar bears.
- These marine mammals are a protected species and hunting them is considered illegal, however some countries and indigenous peoples are still allowed to hunt them in limited numbers for food and raw material.
- During freezing climates beluga are able to find pockets of air while under freezing water in order to obtain oxygen.
- During the winter the Arctic (where beluga whales live) can reach an average temperature of −40 °C (−40 °F) with a record temperature of −68 °C (−90 °F).
- The earliest ancestor to the beluga whale is believed to have existed over 30 million years ago.
- On average the male beluga whale measures 25% larger than its female counterpart and weighs 500 – 1000 lbs. more than the female.