Marine Wildlife Encyclopedia
Beluga Whale Delphinapterus leucas
With its distinctive, yellowish white coloration, the beluga or white whale is easy to identify. In overall shape it is similar to its close relative the narwhal, although it has no tusk.
Its color changes with age: newborn belugas are dark gray, and it can take them up to ten years to assume the adult color, which comes with sexual maturity. Beluga whales are slow swimmers and feed on a wide variety of fish and other animals.
They often live close inshore during summer months and may enter the lower reaches of large rivers. Belugas are remarkably sociable and vocal, making a range of different sounds, including trills, clicks, and chirps. In the days of wooden sailing-ships, these sounds were easily audible through hulls—earning belugas the nickname “canary of the seas.”
Formerly abundant throughout the Arctic, belugas have been reduced to localized populations by centuries of hunting. They are still hunted today, although on a reduced scale, but they face growing threats from pollution and shipping traffic.
Massed Ranks of Beluga Whales
During the breeding season, belugas gather in herds that may be thousands strong. Within each herd, the whales are grouped according to age and sex, with pregnant and nursing mothers staying close together with their young. Belugas communicate using sound, but they can also make facial expressions—a unique attribute among whales. They also often hunt in groups.
What Oceana Does to Protect Belugas
Oceana works to protect Arctic ecosystems from climate change and commercial fishing.