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Beluga Whale

Béluga

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Beluga Whale

Family: Monodontidae
Length: 3 to 5 m
Weight: 500 to 1500 kg
Sexual maturity: 5 to 8 years
Lifespan: 30 to 40 years

  • White body and bulging forehead
  • Movable head and flexible neck
  • Small ridge instead of a dorsal fin
  • Short and rounded pectoral fins
  • Blowhole slightly to the left side of the head

The beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) is distinguishable from other cetaceans by its ghostlike profile often seen gliding just beneath the water’s surface. It is found in the frigid waters of the arctic and sub-arctic regions, in Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland. Canadian waters are home to between 60,000 and 100,000 belugas, including a small permanent population in the Saint Lawrence River.

Unhurried swimmer 

BélugaAble to swim in waters barely deep enough to cover it, the beluga can also dive to depths of over 1,000 metres. It swims at leisurely speeds of 2 to 4 km/h, but if required, can swim as fast as 20 km/h. Every five to ten minutes, it returns to the surface to breathe.


Thick-skinned 

A beluga’s skin is 100 times thicker than that of land mammals, and is composed of a significant  layer of fat that can reach up to 10 cm in thickness. Counting for over 40% of the whale’s body weight, the blubber functions as both an energy store and a natural insulator from the cold. 

Icebreaking head

The beluga’s bulging forehead helps it break through sea ice when it must return to the surface to breathe. The beluga can break through a layer of ice 10 cm thick with little effort. However, when the ice becomes too thick and surface air holes are inaccessible, belugas can occasionally die, trapped beneath the ice. 

Rapid growth

Mating occurs only once every three years. After a 14-month gestation period, the female gives birth to a calf about 1.5 m long and weighing about 80 kg. Thanks to the mother’s milk, which is rich in fat, the newborn grows quickly. The mother nurses and protects her calf until it reaches two years of age, at which point it becomes independent. 

Social creatures

Belugas are social animals. They regularly travel in pods of about ten individuals, and occasionally in pods containing hundreds of individuals. These large groups are subdivided into sub-groups of adult males and females with juveniles. 

Deep-water hunter

The beluga hunts for prey both in open waters and in the sediments of the seabed. It will generally chase prey to a depth of 300 metres. About 50 species of invertebrates (incl. squid, octopus, shrimp and marine worms) and fish (incl. sand eel, capelin, halibut and cod) make up its diet.  

A superb singer

Of all the whales, the beluga possesses the richest vocal abilities. The variety of its song has earned it the nickname “sea canary”. Beluga sounds range from chirps to grunts, by way of squeaks, clicks, squawks and clacks. It is believed that these vocalizations are used for communication.

Toxic belugas

BélugaIn under a century, Quebec’s population of belugas has dropped by 80%, to the point that only an estimated 1,000 individuals remain in the waters of the Saint Lawrence. Casualties of domestic and industrial waste, beached belugas have been found in such a contaminated state that the carcasses had to be treated as toxic waste.
 

Related articles
01 - In Sync with the Great Whales
Janie Girard follows the seasonal migrations of marine mammals in the Saint Lawrence River.
Links
GREMM The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals
Comments

About Belua Whales

Par Sky, 2016-10-12, 14h32

They are so cute!!

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