Beluga whale

Delphinapterus leucas
Beluga whale
Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) - Photo: Mark Carwardine

Appearance

Size: max 3-4.5m

Key features:
- Pale grey, yellow to pure white in colour
- Rounded head
- No dorsal fin

Ancient mariners used to call the beluga the Sea Canary due to its great repertoire of sounds which can be heard from above the surface. It can also pull lots of facial expressions due to the ability to alter the shape of its forehead and lips. Not all belugas are white their body colour changes over time. They are born pink-brown and change to pure white by the time they are 10yrs old.


Behaviour

Is normally a slow swimmer that spends much of their time at or near the surface. This is a particularly social animal so are found in groups of 5-20 individuals. They feed on fish, squid and crustaceans on the seabed. They like to approach divers and boats as they are very inquisitive animals.

Distribution

Belugas can be seen from the subarctic to the high arctic waters. Seasonal distributions are related to the presence of ice packs, spending the winter months close to and under ice packs whilst spending the summer months around estuaries, inlets and coastal bays.

Threats

Belugas have been hunted for centuries and are still being hunted for food and captured for display in aquariums. Other threats include; oil and gas development, global warming and chemical pollution.

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