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Beluga Whales

Beluga Whales Bagula Whales are small (3 - 5m) toothed whales that inhabit coastal and estuarine areas, often with pack ice, in arctic and subarctic areas of the northern hemisphere. They can be recognized by their white color, prominent rounded melon, stout body shape and lack of dorsal fin.

The term "beluga" stems from the Russian word belukha which means "white one". The beluga whale is known by the scientific name of Delphinapterus ("whale without fins") leucas ("white"). It is also referred to as "white whale", "white porpoise" and "white squidhound" because of its color, and "sea canary", because of its lively chatter.

Range and Habitat : Beluga whales are most commonly found in coastal waters of circumpolar, primarily arctic regions of the northern hemisphere. Some isolated populations however, extend into subarctic regions as far south as the St. Lawrence River of Canada.

Since belugas are extremely difficult to monitor, population sizes are known from only certain localities. Based on this information, it seems likely that the present total population is between 40,000 and 55,000 animals. The population in the St. Lawrence River has now declined to less than 500 whales.

Present hunting and exploitation rates indicate a further population decline, especially in eastern Canada and the Barents and White seas.

Throughout their distribution range belugas inhabit cold Arctic Ocean waters, living amongst pack ice in winter and in shallow bays and estuaries of large northern rivers in the summer.

Belugas are adapted to cold and ice and frequently inhabit areas where pack ice is common, although they are limited seasonally to areas where they can maintain breathing holes.

Of all toothed whales, belugas are clearly the most adapted to brackish, estuarine waters and travel up river mouths, often with the tide, for limited distances in search of food.

Physical Charecteristics : Beluga whales have stout bodies, well defined necks and a disproportionately small head with a well defined beak and a prominent bulge or "melon". They have short but broad paddle shaped flippers, no dorsal fin, a narrow ridged back and a broad tail fluke with a deeply notched center.

Adult beluga whales grow to lengths of 10-16 feet (3-5 m), and can weigh up to 3300 lbs (1500 kg). Males grow slightly larger than females.

Color varies with age. Calves are a reddish-brown at birth and remain so throughout the first year; during the second year this color slowly transforms to a marbled blue gray. In the following 3 years the color slowly fades as pigment is lost from the skin. By 6 years of age, belugas have attained their characteristic creamy white adult color.

The gestation period (length of pregnancy) for beluga whales is 14 months. Young are approximately 48 inches (120 cm), and weigh 100 lbs (45 kg) at birth.

Belugas are thought to live to 35-50 years of age.

Habits : Belugas often travel in large groups, gathered closely together on breeding grounds, and spread out while feeding. Females accompanied by juveniles tend to favor areas characterized by relatively calm, shallow water with sand gravel and mud bottoms, while mixed herds of males and adult females without calves inhabit deeper, colder waters with upwellings and vertical mixing of waters.

Beluga whales eat a wide variety of benthic and pelagic prey such as worms, crustaceans, squid, octopus and small Sea Fish in shallow and coastal waters although diets vary with season, location, age and body size. Arctic species feed mainly on shallow water fish. An adult beluga will consume approximately 55 lbs (25 kg) of food in a day.

Beluga whales can remain submerged for 15-20 minutes and may travel up to 2-3 km on one dive. This allows them to pursue their primary diet of small fish such as capulin, char, sand lance and cod.