The beluga whale is a small, toothed whale that is white as an adult. The beluga’s body is stout and has a small, blunt head with a small beak, tiny eyes, thick layers of blubber, and a rounded melon. They have one blowhole. Beluga means “white one” in Russian. Its genus, Delphinapterus, means “whale without fins”, and the species, leucas, means white. The beluga is also called the white whale, the white porpoise, the sea canary (because of its songs), and the squid hound (due to its diet). Unlike most other cetaceans, the beluga’s seven neck vertebrae are not fused, giving it a flexible, well-defined neck.
At birth the beluga whale is born with either dark grey or brownish skin coloring that fades to a white color as they reach maturity. When fully grown beluga whales on average weigh between 2,000 – 3,500 pounds and grow to an average length of 10 – 17 ft. long, however large males may occasionally exceed 18 ft. in length during adulthood.
As with other toothed whale species female beluga whales generally grow to be slightly smaller than their male counterparts. In terms of appearance the beluga has a fairly stock body with rounded dome-shaped head, however the body tapers down towards the rear near its flukes.
When compared to other species of whale the beluga has more flexibility in its neck which allows it to observe more of its environment. Also unlike other whale species the beluga lacks a dorsal fin, but instead has a ridge where the dorsal fin would normally be located. In order to navigate the ocean the belugas flippers resemble paddles that help it steer and turn and its rear flukes help the whale propel itself through the water.
Due to the fact that the beluga whale lives in the arctic these marine mammals have developed a thick layer of insulated blubber to protect their vital organs from the freezing waters.
In terms of food sources the beluga whale is known to live on a diet of fish, crustaceans, krill, squid, octopus, crabs, sand worms and other small prey. In order to maintain their energy these whales may consume on average between 2 % – 3 % of their body weight on a daily basis or 40 lbs. to 70 lbs. of food daily. Children on the other hand are nursed and fed milk by their mother until they can hunt for food on their own and separate from their maternal bond. Despite being a toothed whale beluga whales do not chew their food; instead they swallow their prey whole.
When foraging for food beluga whales often hunt for their prey at or near the bottom of shallow coastal shores and will hunt cooperatively in pods of 5 or more whales in order to herd their prey together into tight balls where they can isolate and attack it. During deep dives these marine mammals can reach depths of up to 2,300 ft. when searching for food.
To help these whales when diving for food at night or in deep water beluga are equipped with echolocation which helps them navigate the ocean, search for food and coordinate hunting strategies.
Echolocation allows beluga to obtain information about their surroundings using sound rather than sight. The sounds they create can tell them the direction, speed, size and density of the objects around them by measuring the time it takes the emitted sounds to return to them. This lets the beluga whale know whether the object is food, a predator or an obstacle so that they can make an informed decision regarding hunting or avoiding the object they have located and identified.
Beluga whales are very social and create high-pitched twitter noises in order to communicate with one another. The exact meaning of these noises is unknown however it is likely used to signal warnings or important information such as the location of a nearby food source or an interest to mate among other things.
In addition to using vocal communication these marine mammals may also communicate by bumping or rubbing against each other, chasing one another and playing games together.
Although beluga mostly travel in pods they will often separate from one pod and move to another not staying locked down to any one group of whales for an extended period of time.
Belugas were among the first whale species to be kept in captivity. The first beluga was shown at Barnum’s Museum in New York City in 1861. Today, it remains one of the few whale species kept at aquaria and marine parks across North America, Europe, and Asia.
SeaWorld is one of the few places on the planet where you can enter the water with these amazing animals and get to know one of the sea’s most charming inhabitants through the Beluga Interaction Program.