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Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

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Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Blue Ocean Society

Beluga whales are found in Arctic and subarctic ocean waters and the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean and runs through New York State and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. These whales are easily recognizable by their white coloration and the prominent “melon” on their head. They lack a dorsal fin, which allows them to travel more easily through icy waters.

Description:

Adult belugas are 13-16 feet long and weigh up to 3,500 pounds. Unlike most other cetaceans, whose neck vertebrae are fused, the beluga’s seven neck vertebrae are free, allowing the beluga to turn its head and nod.

Belugas are among the most vocal of all cetaceans. Their whistles, chirps, clicks, and squeaks can be heard above water and through the hulls of boats, causing sailors to nickname them the “sea canary.”

Classification:

Feeding:

Beluga whales are cetaceans that belong to the Suborder Odontoceti, the toothed whales. Toothed whales are social creatures who often gather in pods. Belugas are no exception, with whales gathering in pods with an average size of 10, although on migrations these pods can number up to 10,000.

Belugas feed opportunistically on many different prey species, such as squid, crabs, clams, shrimp and fish such as sand lance, capelin, herring, smelt and flounder.

Reproduction:

The beluga’s gestation period is about 14 months. Females usually give birth to a single calf every 2-3 years. Calves are about five feet in length when they are born. At birth, calves are a dark gray to brownish color but get lighter as they age. The calves nurse for 20-24 months. Beluga whales live at least 25 years, and possibly more than 50.

Distribution:

Belugas inhabit Arctic and subarctic waters and the St. Lawrence River. Some belugas migrate seasonally, while others stay in a fairly small area year-round. There are five beluga stocks in U.S. waters, all of which are in Alaska (Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay, the eastern Bering Sea, the eastern Chukchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea.)

Status:

Cook Inlet Population: Endangered

All others not listed

Sources:

  • American Cetacean Society. 2004. “Beluga Whale” (Online), American Cetacean Society. Accessed October 22, 2008.
  • Marine Mammal Commission. 2008. “Beluga Whale”. (Online), Marine Mammal Commission Accessed October 22, 2008.
  • NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service. 2007. “Species of Concern: Beluga Whale” (Online), NOAA. Accessed October 22, 2008.
  • Sea World/Busch Gardens Animal Information Database. 2002. “Beluga Whales” (Online). Busch Entertainment Corporation. Accessed October 22, 2008.
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