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ALL ABOUT WHALES!
What is a Whale? Whale Information Sheets Anatomy and Behavior Extreme Whales Whale Myths Whale Evolution Whale Classification Whale Glossary Whale Activities Whale Index

BELUGA WHALE
Delphinapterus leucas
Beluga Printout
Beluga Connect-the-Dots


GENERAL DESCRIPTION
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.

Beluga Whale


SIZE
Beluga whales grow to be about 15 feet (4.6 m) long on average, weighing up to about 3,300 pounds (1500 kg). Males are slightly larger than females.

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.

SOCIAL GROUPS
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.

DIVING
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).

SPEED
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.

VOCALIZATION
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.



REPRODUCTION
The gestation period of the beluga is about 14-15 months and the calf is born tail or head first and near the surface in warm, shallow waters. They breed in warm, shallow waters or estuaries (where rivers meet seas). The newborn instinctively swims to the surface within 10 seconds for its first breath; it is helped by its mother, using her flippers. The newborn calf is about 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) long and weighs over 100-140 lbs (45-64 kg). Single births are the norm; twins are very rare. Calves are not white like the adults; they are blue to brownish-red for the first year of life. During the second year they are gray to blue. Their pigment (melanin) fades slowly, and by 6 years old, they are white. The baby is nurtured with its mother's fat-laden milk (it is 28% fat) and is weaned in about 12-24 months. Beluga whales reach maturity at 7-9 years.

PREDATORS
Killer whales Orca 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.

LIFE SPAN
Beluga whales have a life expectancy of 25-30 years.

POPULATION COUNT
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.

CLASSIFICATION
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)
Genus Delphinapterus
Species leucas

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.

Beluga Connect-the-Dots

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.



Information Sheets About Whales
(and other cetaceans)

Just click on a cetacean's name to go to that information sheet.

BELUGA WHALE

BLUE WHALE

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN

BOWHEAD WHALE

GRAY WHALE

HUMPBACK WHALE

KILLER WHALE

MINKE WHALE

NARWHAL

ORCA

RIGHT WHALES

SPERM WHALE




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