The beluga whale is a medium-size whale that grows to lengths of four to five metres. It has sharp teeth, no dorsal fin, and a spindle-shaped body that is wider in the middle and tapers toward the ends, an adaptation that helps it swim under the ice in its Arctic home.
Beluga whales get their name from a Russian phrase meaning “the white one.” They aren’t white all their lives, however: calves are born brown or dark grey. With thick layers of blubber to insulate them from the cold waters of their Arctic habitat, belugas weigh in at between 500 kilograms and 1,500 kilograms.
Belugas live mostly in the Arctic, but migrate south as the ice pack builds up in the fall. There are seven main populations of belugas in Canada. The most southern group lives in the St. Lawrence estuary in Quebec. The others live around Baffin Island, Hudson Bay and in the Beaufort Sea.
Like many other whales, belugas use echolocation to communicate with each other, hunt prey, and orient themselves in the vast ocean. Their wide range of squeaks, chirps, whistles, clicks and other vocalizations caused early whalers to nickname them the “canaries of the sea.” Their chatter can sometimes be heard through the bottoms of boats!
Fast Facts: Beluga Whale
Scientific name: Delphinapterus leucas
Weight: 500 kilograms to 1,500 kilograms
Length: approximately four metres to six metres
Average lifespan: 35 to 50 year
“Beluga” comes from a Russian phrase meaning “the white one,” but belugas are actually born grey or brown.
The bulge on a beluga’s forehead is called a melon and is believed to help the whales produce their wide range of different sounds.
Belugas can dive to a depth of almost 1,000 metres and stay underwater for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Did you know?
Unlike most whales, the beluga has seven vertebrae in their necks that are not fused. This means the whales have very flexible necks — they can turn their heads in all directions.