Beluga Whale Facts

The beluga whale (also known as the white whale) is one of the smallest whales in the cetacean species, which also includes dolphins and porpoises.

These 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.

They communicate using a series of clicks and whistles and use echolocation to search for food and navigate the ocean.

Physical Characteristics

Beluga whales on average weigh between 2,000 – 3,500 pounds and grow to an average 10 - 17 ft. long when they are fully matured, however large males may occasionally exceed 18 ft. in length.

Female beluga whales generally grow to be slightly smaller than their male counterparts.

The beluga has a rounded dome-shaped head.

Unlike other whales the beluga lacks a dorsal fin, but instead has a ridge where the dorsal fin would normally be located.

At birth they are born with either dark grey or brownish skin which fades to a white color as they reach maturity.

They also have more flexibility in their necks as compared to most other species of whale allowing them to observe more of their environment.

Diet

Beluga whales live on a diet of fish, crustaceans (such as krill), squid, octopus, crabs, sand worms and other small prey.

They consume on average between 2 % – 3 % of their bodyweight on a daily basis.

When foraging they often hunt for their food at or near the bottom of shallow coastal shores and will hunt cooperatively in pods of 5 or more whales by herding their prey together into tight balls and then attacking it.

Despite being a toothed whale they don’t chew their food, they swallow it whole.

Habitat

Beluga whales are often found swimming in shallow coastal water in the arctic.

They can be seen traveling in pods of several hundred at certain times and when migrating numbers can reach the thousands.

Depending on the area and environment some beluga whales will make seasonal migration trips while others will only travel within a small localized area.

They can navigate through the arctic at temperatures as low as 0-c (-32 f).

During the colder months as the arctic water freezes over most beluga whales will migrate south to avoid getting trapped in the frozen ice.

Social Structure

Beluga whales are very social and create high-pitched twitter noises used to communicate.

Although they mostly travel in pods they often separate from one pod and move to another not staying locked down to any one group of whales.

Pods can range anywhere from 5 – 100 or more during feeding and expand into the thousands during migration periods.

Breeding

The gestation period (the period between conception and birth) for the beluga lasts between 12 -15 months.

Females give birth to a single calf once every 3 years on average.

Newborns are often born just under three ft. and can remain nursed by their mothers for up to two years.

Beluga whales mature between the ages of 4 – 9 and 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

  1. Beluga whales are marine mammals which means they are warm-blooded, breathe air, produce milk to feed their young and give birth.
  2. 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).
  3. The scientific name for the beluga whale is, “Delphinapterus leucas”.
  4. 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.
  5. Beluga whales are known to face threats from natural predators such as killer whales and polar bears.
  6. 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.
  7. During freezing climates beluga are able to find pockets of air while under freezing water in order to obtain oxygen.
  8. 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).
  9. The earliest ancestor to the beluga whale is believed to have existed over 30 million years ago.
  10. On average the male beluga whale measures 25% larger than its female counterpart and weighs 500 – 1000 lbs. more than the female.