Beluga whale is the world’s smallest whale. It’s easily recognizable due to its globular head and stark white coloring. It lives in the subarctic regions and the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean.
Belugas are very social and form groups of up to ten animals, though, during the summer, they can often gather in hundreds or even thousands in shallow coastal areas and estuaries.
They’re slow swimmers but can dive to 2,300 feet (700 meters) below the surface. Beluga whales are opportunistic feeders and their diets vary based, the season and their locations. Most of the belugas live in the Arctic Ocean and the coasts and seas around Russia, North America, and Greenland; their global population is believed to be almost 150,000.
They’re migratory, and most of the groups spend the winter season around Arctic ice cap; when the sea ice melts in summer, they migrate to warmer coastal areas and river estuaries. Part of their populations are sedentary and don’t migrate over long distances during the year.
The native peoples of Russia and North America have hunted the belugas for several centuries. Also, many fishers have hunted belugas for commercial purposes during the ninetieth century and part of the twentieth century. There has been an international ban on whale hunting since 1973.
In an ocean filled with more than 80 whale species, belugas certainly stand out from the crowd. From their unique pale shade to their relatively petite stature, you shouldn’t have any trouble recognizing these social sea creatures.
When the water temperature drops significantly (and ice starts forming), belugas move toward the south, where the water is warmer. Some populations of the belugas are almost eliminated entirely due to commercial fishing for their skin and meat.
Other threats to the survival of whale belugas are ocean pollution, oil spills, and climate changes (increase in water temperature or sudden freezing of the water). Belugas are in the list of threatened species (nearly endangered) due to all these factors.
1. Belugas can change the shape of their bulbous forehead, known as a “melon,” by blowing air around their sinuses.
2. In 2009, a captive beluga whale saved the life of a distressed free diving competitor by pushing her to the surface.
3. The belugas are closely related to other rare species of the arctic-dwelling whales—the narwhal. They are the only members of the Monodontidae family.
4. Unlike many dolphins and whales, the unfused seven-neck vertebrae of a beluga whale, and this allows the animal the freedom to nod up and down and turn its head side-to-side. The adaptation is believed to assist them to target their prey better in places which are full of sand or ice.
5. Belugas are born in the estuaries (areas where a river meets the ocean) that are muddy. The dark color of a baby beluga assists it hides from their predators and survives the early months of its life. Young beluga is very close to its mother, and it rides on her back while moving from one point to another in the ocean.
6. Belugas are extremely vocal creatures. They use a variety of sounds, like whistles, and clicks in their communication. Also, belugas can mimic other sounds they hear. Due to the loud noise they often produce, belugas are also called the “canaries of the sea.”
7. Several whales can be spotted easily when their dorsal fins break through the surface of the water, but belugas lack this feature. The reduction of surface area assists in preventing heat loss in the freezing Arctic Ocean. Also, it makes it easier for them to glide directly underneath the ice sheets. However, they have a robust dorsal ridge which assists them to break up the layers of ice.
8. Belugas possess another unique ability which is relatively rare among the cetaceans: These creatures can swim backward. Their extraordinary maneuverability skills make up for their slow speeds of 2-5 mph.
9. Beluga whales have fully adapted to their arctic habitat by creating a thick insulation layer. Blubber alone accounts for over 40 percent of whale’s body weight.
10. Each summer, high numbers of beluga whales move to shallow waters to shed their skin. They rub themselves on gravel to get rid of the old yellow skin and acquire a new shiny white coat underneath.