The Whales

beluga whale

The beluga is white, a color adaptation to its, primarily arctic, environment.  Its name comes from the Russian word for white.  Thick blubber makes it possible for the beluga to live in extremely cold water, and no dorsal fin allows it to move freely under the ice.  Its head is rounded, and it has a short beak and a prominent forehead called the “melon”. 

The belugas neck is narrower than the necks of other whales.  It differs from most whales, whose neck vertebrae are fused, in that, its 7 neck vertebrae are free, which allow it to nod and turn its head.

Belugas are about 17-20 feet (5.2-6.2 meters) long and weigh 3,000 -3300 lbs (1360-1500 kg), with females smaller than males.

Beluga whale 

11.5" Long x 3.5" High
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The beluga diet is varied and consists of small squid, crabs, clams, shrimp, sandworms, and various fish such as cod.  It is especially fond of young salmon, and groups of belugas sometimes gather at the mouths of rivers to feed on them.  It has about 10 conical teeth on each side of its upper and lower jaw.  Because it swallows its food whole the teeth are not for chewing, but for grasping and holding prey. 

Among the most vocal of whales the beluga produces a wide range of squeaks, chirps, whistles and clicks that can be heard clearly on the surface of the water.  Listening even through the hulls of their ships early whalers called them “sea canaries”. 

Belugas have been hunted for millennia by native whalers for food, oil and “porpoise leather”.  They are still-hunted by native peoples throughout most of the Arctic.  Their natural enemies are orcas, and in some areas, polar bears.  Current population is estimated at about 200,000 worldwide.



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