The beluga white whale is a type of toothed whale, known scientifically as Delphinacterus Leucas. Its name comes from the Russian «beluhka» which means white whale, and «bel’ji» which means white.
The Belugas fully develop their white color when they are adults, since at birth they are gray or light brown. Their lack of front fin, a prominent head and a robust and voluminous body; can be listed as others distinctive features of these creatures.
They are gregarious creatures; that is, they form groups of 10 individuals; although during the summer this number grows up to thousands individuals.
Table Of Content
- 1 Taxonomy 🐋
- 2 Characteristics Of The Beluga White Whale 🐋
- 3 Alimentation Habits of the Beluga White Whale 🐋
- 4 The Belugas White Whales’ Common Behavior 🐋
- 5 Where Beluga White Whales Inhabit? 🐋
- 6 The Beluga White Whales And Their Relationship With Humans 🐋
- 7 The White Beluga White Whales’ Natural Threats 🐋
- 8 Conservation Of The Beluga White Whale 🐋
- 9 Beluga White Whales, Curious Facts 🐋
The zoologist and botanist Peter Simon Pallas, was the first to discover this species in the year 1776. The beluga whales, belong to the family of Monodontidae, referring to the toothed whales. However, despite being considered a whale; according to DNA studies it was found that they belong to the order of the Delphinidae.
The name Delphinaterus comes from the Greek, » Dolphin without fins».
Moreover, the name given to the species Leucas, is also from the Greek, which means «white.» Although in a general way, these whales receive the name of beluga, to differentiate them from other species such as Beluga Sturgeon.
Characteristics Of The Beluga White Whale 🐋
These beautiful white whales have a life expectancy between 70 and 80 years. Their age is usually determined by the amount of cement gathered on their teeth. It is calculated from one layer of cement per year; which can be identified by their opaque color.
This method was updated in 2006, before that, it was believed that there were two layers of dental cement per year; so their life expectancy was estimated around 30 years
An adult male reaches up to 1,100 to 1,600 kilograms in weight, while the female, only reaches 700 to 1,200 kilogrmas. .
The white beluga whales reach their full size when they are 10 years old. They have some folds of fat along the belly area, and almost half of their body is covered in fat; which serves as a protective layer, against the low temperatures of the Arctic areas where they usually inhabit.
When these cetaceans are born, they have a gray or in some cases light brown color. It takes 9 years for the males , to reach their characteristic white color, while females reach it in only 7 years old.
Like most animals that inhabit polar areas, their color helps protect them from predators like polar bears; since it serves as «camouflage» to hide in the Arctic snow. The belugas, tend to vary their color according to the seasons. So, it is possible to see a yellowish coloration during the winter; due to the thickening of the superficial layers of the skin, which protects them from the inclement low temperature. At the beginning of summer, during the migration, they rub against the sand of rivers to remove this coating.
Employing the Senses
These cetaceans have a fairly short sense of vision out of the water. However, their retina fits within it, allowing them to see clearly. There are also studies that determine the presence of cones and rods, which indicates that they can see in the dark.
Their eyes secrete a gelatinous substance, that protects them from bacteria and fungi that are in the water; keeping them lubricated and clean of foreign bodies.
The white beluga whales, tend to establish physical contact with others of the same species. This indicates that they have a sensitive sense of tact, and they feel safe to be surrounded by other belugas.
In some studies, the presence of chemoreceptors was detected in the tongue; which shows that they identify flavors through taste. Contrary, there haven´t been discovered odor-receiving organs to smell, in this specie.
But let´s keep learning more about this lovely creature
Alimentation Habits of the Beluga White Whale 🐋
Regarding the alimentation of these whales, they adapt easily to the location and ecosystem where they are. They can consume fish, large quantities of mollusks, shrimp, octopus, snails, worms and all kinds of marine animals.
This is the only negative factor, that the Belugas cause in the ecosystems of the arctic areas, since they tend to eat without discrimination, leaving other species without food .
To get food they can dive to 20 and 40 meters deep, staying there during 5 minutes maximum..
The Belugas White Whales’ Common Behavior 🐋
Due to its morphological characteristics, the Beluga white whale is a poor swimmer. Its large and bulky body hinder its swimming skills, unlike other cetaceans and / or dolphins. This is a product of its anatomical low hydrodynamic shape, which doesn´t allow them to move quickly.
Likewise, their front fins are quite small compared to their bodies; which limits them to develop a maximum speed of 9 kilometers per hour.
However, unlike other whales, they can swim backwards and most of the time, they prefer to swim underwater where they are much more active. This is why, they don´t perform exhibitions on water, like orcas and dolphins.
Nevertheless, the white whales are considered as great divers, since they can submerge at great depths, between 400 and 700 meters; for a time of 15 to 20 minutes. Although, there are evidences of individuals that have reached 872 meters deep.
This ability to submerge to great depths, is due to their capacity to store oxygen, which allows them to lower their heart rate, diverting the oxygen this way to the main organs such as brain, heart and lungs. These organs need to stay active during the dive.
In addition, their muscles contain myoglobin, a protein that has the function of transporting oxygen, which they use as a reserve for long-term dives.
Beluga whales reach sexual maturity between 4 to 7 years for males, and 4 to 9 years for females. They are considered fully fertile at the age of 8 and a half years; And it culminates at age 25, so there are no birth records after this age.
The females usually give birth every 2 to 3 years, and the gestation period can vary between 12 and 14 months. Even, there have been cases of whales in captivity, with a gestation period of 15 months..
As we have already said, the baby whale is gray at the beginning, and he feeds through breastfeeding.
Hence, he belongs to the family of mammals; being breastfed every hour after birth.
When the calves reach the first year of life; they get their first teeth; so the mother begins to give them small fish and shrimp to vary their diet.
How do Beluga White Whales Communicate? 🐋
The Beluga white whales communicate through sonic waves, that is, they produce sounds to locate the distance in which an object is located. This system is called echolocation, and it helps them move in the dark deep waters.
They make a snap which generates a sort of acoustic signal, that when bouncing against any obstacle, returns to them and it´s captured by the melon ( spiracle ) they carry on the top of their head. This is how they calculate the speed, size, distance, shape and structure of other marine species.
The communication between them is established through a high frequency system, comprised of very sharp sounds, that they have gained them the name of «marine canaries».
They also use a sort of fluttering to communicate with each other
If you want to learn more about this method, then you should watch this video…
Where Beluga White Whales Inhabit? 🐋
The belugas white whales, usually inhabit the coastal areas of the Arctic, especially on the coasts where there is more sunlight. It’ s also possible to see them near the river springs, especially during the summer, where they feed and have their offspring.
These beautiful creatures, are commonly observed near the Cook Inlet, in Australia.
However, in the Arctic archipelago, they protect themselves from their predators by choosing areas covered with ice.
It is estimated that there are around 100,000 beluga whales scattered all over the world. However, this number varies especially during the season of whales´ hunting; where the population obviously decreases. It is considered an approximate of 40,000 species in the Beaufort Sea, 18,500 in the Bering Sea and around 28,000 in the Canadian Low Arctic. Moreover, there around 1,000 individuals, in the estuary of San Lorenzo..
The Beluga White Whales And Their Relationship With Humans 🐋
The Beluga white whale was one of the first species of whales, captured to be shown to the public. Its appearance was coordinated by the American Museum of Barnum, in New York, in 1861. Then, Canada became the main country carrying out these practices. However, it was not until the year of 1962, when a law was proposed to prohibit this practice.
Many of them were exported to aquariums in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Soshi. Canadians , although they no longer captured them, kept buying these whales for exhibitions.
Many aquariums in North America, for the year 2006, had more than 50 specimens in captivity; most of them came mainly from their natural habitats. Moreover, 42 of these whales were reported as dead; since the efforts made to grow the population by means of captive births failed.
There were only two successful cases of this practice, one of them at the Vancouver Aquarium, which save a baby for more than 15 years. The other case was reported in 2016, in Valencia, Spain; about a calf obtained by artificial insemination; but it had to be attended by its caregivers, providing it the necessary cares.
Given their beauty and docility, these whales are often captured, to become the main attraction for large aquariums and marine recreation centers. However, this unfortunately could also mean their own extinction.
Given all the features of these whales, regarding their white color and robust appearance; they are very appreciated not only for exhibition purposes, but also for the trade of meat, skin and fat. Countries such as Canada, Alaska and Russia, lead this market.
It is important to know, that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the consumption of meat and fat of whales, was part of the diet of Europeans and North America.
In the same way, the oils extracted from the spiracle ( melon) were used to lubricate clocks and other machinery; as well as illuminate headlights.
Although years later, animal fat was replaced by vegetable oils, the indiscriminate hunting continued, since the skin of the belugas, were used to make leather.
During the decade of the 20s, the government of Quebec, offered a reward to the whalers; to exterminate what they called a threat to fish stocks. This was due to the constant complaints that the whales feed on the species that were part of their livelihood.
Currently, only the natives of inuit in the Arctic, maintain whaling as part of their consumption and production of raw materials. Although the government of Canada, is always mediating to keep the proper balance of the ecosystem, without any of the parties being affected.
The White Beluga White Whales’ Natural Threats 🐋
The main predator of the beluga is the polar bear. They take advantage of the moment when the whales come to the surface to breathe, and hit them; taking the belugas out of the water. Moreover , during winter, some of these whales get trapped between the layers of ice, where they are easy prey of bears.
Another predator is the orca, which due to its speed can reach many belugas, especially the youngest; who are skill less for swimming.
For this reason, during the autumn season , when ice sheets begin to harden; the belugas are available to killer whales; which are adapted to these conditions.
As a result, both humans and animal predators , have affected the beluga whale population, which is decreasing over the years. So, belugas are also considered as endangered whales ( internal link )
In recent decades, the increase of the oceans´ pollution, has caused many deaths to the belugas whales´ communities. It has been proven that the first causes of death are cancer and diseases such as pneumonia, ulcers, tumors, cysts and bacterial infections.
The main source is water pollution, mainly due to the high levels of heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Also the large amounts of chlorine to purify water, are a harmful element in the health of these marine species.
There are some others human activities, that also affect these whales; as for example the employ of acoustics devices.
We must remember that these animals have a very acute sense of hearing; so the noise of engines and boats, affects them considerably. They can become chaotic in the water, going into shock and hitting themselves to death.
They have caused a big number of respiratory infections that usually end fatally.
On the other hand, there are also cases of Belugas, contaminated with papilloma virus . Above all the in San Lorenzo river; where the presence of Sarcocystis, which causes encephalitis, was also found.
In studies carried out on the intestine of belugas, helminths of the genera Contracaecum and Anisakis simplex were found in stomach and intestine. There are other parasites such as Pharurus pallasii that were detected in the auditory organs and Leucasiella arctica in the rectum region.
Conservation Of The Beluga White Whale 🐋
At the beginning of 2008, the beluga whale was considered an animal in danger of extinction. Due to the number of whales killed by the hunt, especially in the Arctic regions. However, due to its rapid growth by births; it stopped being a threatened species.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, known as IUCN, withdrew it from its famous Red List.
For this reason, the methods of census in the marine species were changed, to later verify that there were no decreases in the population of belugas.
Moreover, protection and conservation measures have been taken, so the population continues rising. For this reason the United States has already promulgated a law that protects the preservation of the white whale, To prevent this beautiful specimen from disappearing in the future.
The Protection of Marine Mammals Act (LPMM) was issued in the year 1972 by the United States Congress. Its main objective was the control of hunting and fishing of any species of the mammal family, within American waters.
During the year 2007, the original law was reformulated and some exceptions are contemplated that involve hunting for cultural, scientific, educational, recreational reasons (as long as the specimen is kept alive) and accidents during the fishing of merchant ships.
Other laws that protect this species is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This was agreed in 1973, to control trade and avoid the exploitation of marine animals, especially those belonging to the species odontocetos or toothed whales.
In the case of Canada, especially in San Lorenzo River; the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, remains active in the supervision and control of national parks. In order to avoid contamination of soil and water that are the main cause of death of the beluga whales.
Beluga White Whales, Curious Facts 🐋
The white beluga whale is a beautiful white cetacean mammal, which is so friendly and sociable. These facts makes of them very appreciated for conservationists, as well as for the exhibition in large aquariums and natural reserves. That is why we wanted to include some curiosities and myths that have served as a reason for the investigation and creation of stories in crossings by the sea.
A curious fact is its ability to adapt to any ecosystem. These creatures usually live in arctic areas and their robust build protects them from the inclement low temperatures. However, apparently, they also enjoy being under the sun’s rays. That is why, during the winter, they migrate towards southern warm areas. Although not all manage to arrive, there are many belugas that are trapped in the ice, dying victims of polar bears, orcas or drowned by not being able to rise to the surface.
Sociable and Friendly 🐋
Beluga whales are never on their own. They are always forming small groups; although during the migration more than 100 individuals can be observed together. They love to touch each other, as if they embraced and communicated by clicking and «singing». Hence, they are called «marine canaries».
In some cases, it has been proven that they have come to imitate certain sounds coming from objects and people.
They do not represent any danger for humans. An example of this was the case of a diver who had difficulty getting to the surface in the city of Harbin, China. The whale Mila, helped her up, saving her life.
These cetaceans, despite being the worst swimmers, are the only ones that can swim on their backs; as well as diving to deep waters in search of food.
A flying beluga
There is a commercial aircraft company, Airbus, in Toulouse, France; that designed five cargo aircraft imitating the shape of these cetaceans.
So it is possible to see flying belugas in the skies of Europe.
Whale or dolphin 🐋
The beluga whale, by its form and color, is commonly confused with a dolphin; especially because of its prominent head that hides the melon and its mouth in a pointy shape.
Also, for being one of the smallest, sociable and friendly cetacean species of the sea.
If you see them in the distance, they can have the appearance of a dolphin swimming playfully.
The myth of the beluga mermaid 🐋
When we see these whales from below, they look like like a finned woman . It is possible that the ancient fishermen of the Arctic seas have confused these creatures with people.
An evidence of this is a photograph taken at an aquarium in New Orleans,in which its shape resembles the legs of a woman wrapped in the skin of the animal and extends towards the tail.
Our world offers us natural wonders of unparalleled value; as the beautiful belugas white whales. We hope that all this information help people understand , how peaceful they are.
Above all, the awakening of a conservationist conscience, so that we continue to enjoy this and many animals such as giant sperm whales, which are part of our planet.
We don´t want to leave you without other illustrative video of these lovely whales…