When directly translated from Russian, beluga means “white”, but it’s a lot more fun to say beluga instead. While Moby Dick was technically a giant white whale, it wasn’t related to the beluga. Beluga whales obtained this white skin to help blend in with the frigid Arctic. They also happen to be related to another white whale, the narwhal; the infamous water unicorn.
Belugas are known for having a big bulbous head, which is aptly-named a melon. Their big heads contain smart brains, but also smart sound transmitters, which help them communicate and find their way in the ocean.
Their large heads stand out especially due to their diminutive size for a whale. They’re the smallest whales in the world, with adults only growing up to 20 feet in length, weighing up to 3,000 lbs. Nearly half of that weight (40%) is purely made up of blubber, however they have very strong muscles to power themselves like a dolphin.
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In fact, beluga whales often appear more related to a dolphin in size than a whale, especially when you consider that their necks can move in all directions, unlike whales. All other whales have immobile neck vertebrae, while the belugas’ are not fused.
Lifestyle of a Beluga
For the most part, beluga whales tend to stay around the Arctic Circle, they are built to last in the cold waters. They will only move south when the ocean’s ice encroaches on their ability to feed, as the temperature dips below freezing. Belugas also travel in large pods of hundreds, even thousands, of individuals together. They’re always communicating, using lots of different sounds, thanks to their big bulbous melons; they can even mimic humans! From clicks, pops, whistles, and crooning bass, they cover a wide spectrum of sounds.
Another way that belugas will communicate is through the use of bubbles. They will blow bubbles in various shapes and sizes to demonstrate playful activity or even give warning when they sense danger.
The main diet for belugas is meat. They’ll hunt anything they can get their teeth on in the sea: fish, crab, octopus, clams, oysters, snail, sea slug—if it moves, they’ll eat it. They have to constantly replenish their energy, eating approximately 50 pounds every day to keep their body fat high.
Beluga Whale Offspring
When the waters are at their warmest in the Arctic, beluga whales will mate, typically in March and April. A mother will carry her young for up to 15 months before giving birth. The young actually come out grey, not white. Calves slowly get lighter as they grow. Scientists say this is more of an advantage for the whales, as it is easier for the pods to protect the young, even if they are easier to spot for predators, as well.
After about a year, calves will get their teeth in and they will start hunting small prey on their own. They nurse for another 6 months until the mom cuts them off. Females take five to seven years to fully develop, while males take an additional two years before they reach maturity.
The average estimate of a beluga’s lifespan is about 50 years, with some reported to have lived up to 70 years. Captive beluga whales may only live about half as long as those in the wild, due to the emotional distress of being trapped in a small environment and the intense need to communicate with others.
Beluga whales are listed as “near threatened” on the endangered species list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. There are approximately 80,000 of them left, however their numbers are spread out over a large area of the Arctic. Commercial fishing continues to be their biggest threat. The politics surrounding the whaling industry continues to be toothless and rife with corruption.
Orcas and polar bears are the natural adversaries of Belugas. However, as long as Belugas have been killed for their meat, lard and skin, they will continue to be in danger, as with many large sea predators. What’s more, their reality is debilitated by water contamination and climate change. Some Canadian and Alaskan Belugas are being jeopardized, while different units around the Arctic are likewise viewed as endangered, because of their remoteness.
Beluga Whale Facts and Talents
These amazing creatures are filled with fun facts and unique talents, these are just a few examples:
Beluga whales are also nicknamed the “sea canary”. This is of course due to their amazing ability to reproduce sounds. Beluga whales can also project sounds very loud, which is sometimes heard inside boats and ships. Researches have studied their vocal range and have determined that they can produce at least 11 unique sounds! Some of them resemble the sounds you hear from dolphins, others sound more like bird chirps, bells, cat mews, and cow moos. Beluga calves and their moms each of their own distinct call to know where each other is at all times.
Because their range of sound product is so wide, beluga whales even have the ability to mimic human speech. This ability was discovered when beluga whales in captivity started to mimic parts of the human handler’s words. They do especially well with short commands like “out” and “food”.
Flexibility and Dexterity
Dissimilar to most whales and dolphins, the seven neck vertebrae of the beluga whale are not melded. This enables the animal the flexibility to turn its go to side and gesture all over. The adjustment is thought to help them better focus on their prey in ranges that are brimming with ice or sediment.
Belugas have another capacity that is very strange among cetaceans: They can swim in reverse. Their great mobility aptitudes compensate for their slow speeds of two to five miles for every hour.
Many whales can be effectively spotted when their dorsal finss come through the water’s surface, however this element is missing from the backs of belugas. The lessening of surface tension forestalls body heat loss in the bone chilling Arctic Ocean, and it additionally makes it less demanding for them to float specifically underneath sheets of ice. They do, in any case, have a tough dorsal edge along their backs that helps them separate thin ice layers.
Groups Have Different Characteristics
A group of beluga whales can be as few as 3, while others may have a few hundred whales living respectively. Regardless of what the span of the unit may be, every social gathering has exceptional attributes that makes them distinctive. A few units will move, while different groups stay where they are each year. Some want to remain nearby to shore, while others lean toward the waters of the vast ocean.
In the late spring months, they may even swim up inland waterways. Pods can have behaviors that mimic schools of fish, where they suddenly break into evasive maneuvers whenever a large predator is spotted. Communication spreads quickly throughout a group of beluga whales, which is a huge advantage when traveling in large numbers.
Calves Stay Close
Beluga whales can live for up to 50 years out in the wild, so the development cycle is fairly moderate at first. At the point when calves are conceived, the vast majority of them will stick around with their mothers for around 2 years and sustain by nursing rather than from nourishment accumulated from the wild. Indeed, even after they grow up, there is a decent shot that the whales will stay with their unit as opposed to breaking off into their own particular pod.
Suck it Up
Beluga whales hunt by sucking in large gulps of water, rather than biting and eating their prey. Their teeth aren’t sharp enough, large enough, or numerous enough to really hunt prey like a dolphin, for example. They prefer to just suck in the prey and swallow them whole. It makes for a much less meal, but they have to be careful not to swallow anything too large or they could choke on them.
They Love the Hits
Belugas have expressed a strong liking to music. They will do literal flips and dance to the sounds of a live band being played nearby. Scientist attribute this to their ability to appreciate a wide range of sounds, so it’s only natural for them to get excited when they hear the harmonious sounds of a mariachi band or the finesse of a talented violinist being played nearby.