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Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

All text on this page is copyright protected: © 2014 Kelvin Aitken.
All rights reserved. Students may use this information for personal research only. Not for commercial use.

Order: Cetacea
Family: Monodontidae
Genus: Delphinapterus
Species: leucas
Taxonomic name: Delphinapterus leucas
Other Common Names: Sea Canary, White Whale.

Beluga Whales belong to the Monodontidae family of toothed whales. Calves are born at 1.5 meters growing to 4.5 meters and 1.5 tonnes.

Belugas can be found in all Arctic and subarctic waters, at times found in cool temperate bays.

The most obvious feature of the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is their white colouration, which provides their other common name: White Whale. This varies from pinkish to pale grey at birth to white when adult, with older individuals becoming creamy yellow. The head is bulbous with a short beak making them look as if they have pursed lips which curve into a smiling rictus. The body is muscular with slightly concave flanks and a broad sculptured tail which may show dark veins on the ventral surface, used to dump excess heat into the surrounding water. Pectoral fins are relatively small spatulate shaped appendages. There is no dorsal fin but they do possess a smooth raised ridge from about mid body to the flukes. This ridge may be continuous or broken or split into smaller lumps and mounds. They posses a single blowhole behind which is a crease that can be regarded as a neck as they are able to turn their head both laterally and vertically far more radically, easier and more often than any other cetacean.

Belugas have a complex high pitched sonar whistle by which they are able to define much more detail from objects and prey than other cetaceans which use a lower pitch. Their calls are long and melodious giving rise to their older name of “Sea Canary”. They are very social feeding and living in groups of dozens, hundreds or over a thousand. Some pods are highly migratory while others are resident in restricted zones. While noted for living in rivers and estuaries, even stranding in the shallows between tides, they also are found in deep oceanic waters and able to dive as deep as some other cetaceans. They feed on small fishes, various benthic invertebrates and crustaceans including crabs and krill.

Predators, besides man, include polar bears and killer whales.

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