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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.
SKIN, SHAPE AND FINS
The beluga whale is white as an adult and molts seasonally. The beluga's body is stout and has a small, blunt head with a beak, a well-defined neck, and a rounded melon. It has no dorsal fin, which makes swimming under Arctic ice sheets easier. The flippers are short, rounded, and wide. The flukes (tail) are wide and deeply notched.
DIET AND TEETH
Belugas are toothed whales with 34 teeth. The teeth are not designed for chewing, but for grabbing and tearing prey. They swallow their prey whole. They are opportunistic feeders, eating a varied diet of fish , squid , crustaceans, octopi , and worms. They are both benthic (bottom) and pelagic (oceanic) feeders (in shallow water). Belugas sometimes hunt schools of fish cooperatively in small groups. An adult beluga will eat about 2.5% to 3% of its body weight per day, or 50 pounds (25 kg) of food a day, or more.
Beluga whales are very social animals and congregate in pods (social groups) of 2-25 whales, with an average pod size of 10 whales (consisting of both males and females or mothers and calves). A pod will hunt and migrate as a group. The bond between mothers and calves is the strongest. During migrations, several pods may join together, forming groups of 200-10,000 belugas.
Belugas usually dive for about 3-15 minutes while hunting for food. They can travel for about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) during a dive and commonly dive to a depth of 66 feet (20 m) to hunt. They can dive to a depth of about 1,300-2,100 feet (400-650 m) at times.
SPOUTING - BREATHING
To open its single blowhole, a beluga contracts the muscular flap that covers it. The beluga's blowhole is relaxed in a closed position. The spout is about 3 feet (90 cm).
Beluga are relatively slow swimmers. They swim about 2-6 mph (3 to 9 kph) . They are capable of short bursts of speed up to 14 mph (22 kph) for about 15 minutes.
Belugas are also known as "sea canaries" because of their songs and chatter, which can even be heard above the water. Belugas use echolocation to locate their bottom-dwelling prey, to find breathing holes in the Arctic ice sheet, and to navigate in deep, dark waters. Their songs are also used in communication with other belugas. Belugas produce many different sounds, ranging from clicks, squeals, whistles, etc. The fatty melon of the beluga changes shape as the beluga makes sounds.
HABITAT, RANGE, AND MIGRATION
Belugas live in frigid Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, but some populations migrate south to warmer water in the summer. Beluga's Arctic habitat overlaps with narwhal's habitat. (The narwhal is its closest relative.) Belugas also travel up northern rivers into brackish (partly salty) water and estuaries (where a river meets the seas) to hunt prey during the summer. Belugas sometimes migrate with bowhead whales.
Killer whales and polar bears prey on belugas, especially the calves. People have hunted belugas for hundreds of years, but belugas are now only hunted by a few Arctic-dwelling tribes.
Beluga whales have a life expectancy of 25-30 years.
It is estimated that there are about 40,000 to 80,000 beluga whales world wide. St. Lawrence, Cook Inlet, and Alaskan belugas are classified as endangered. Other pods are also threatened. Belugas are threatened by pollution (DDT, PCB's, etc.) in estuary waters that they frequent and breed in.
Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas ) are toothed whales (Suborder Odontoceti). They are one of 76 cetacean species, and are marine mammals.
Kingdom Animalia (animals)
Phylum Chordata (vertebrates)
Class Mammalia (mammals)
Order Cetacea (whales and dolphins)
Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales)
Family Monodontidae (white whales with no dorsal fins and blunt heads)
BELUGA WHALE ACTIVITIES/PRINTOUTS
An unlabeled print-out of a beluga whale.
A labeled print-out about beluga whales with information on this Arctic animal.
A first grade addition activity. Solve the 1-digit addition problems, then do letter substitutions to answer a whale question.
A first grade subtraction activity. Solve the 1-digit subtraction problems, then do letter substitutions to answer a whale question.
A Beluga whale word hunt activity - For second and third graders.
Arctic animal printouts.
(and other cetaceans)
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