Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

PHYSIOLOGY | IMAGES | ETYMOLOGY | TAXONOMY | GEOGRAPHY | BEHAVIOR | DIET | REPRODUCTION | ECOLOGY | CONSERVATION | FAUNAFACTS | VIDEO | SOURCES

Silhouette

The beluga whale is the most abundant of the Arctic cetaceans and is the only whale that is completely white. Although they are born gray and gradually fade to white as they age, their signature color defines them, even granting them the nickname, the white whale. They are also the most vocal species of cetaceans granting them another name, the canary of the sea, as they emit high-pitched sounds that replicate those of birds. With extra thick skin and nearly 50% of their bodies made up of blubber, belugas are made to survive the cold temperatures of the Arctic waters, however, they possess the ability to live in both salt and fresh waters, and migrate to river mouths to deliver offspring and participate in an annual molting of old skin. Listed as Least Concern, belugas face little risk and their populations number in the thousands.

Source: The beluga whale: Delphinapterus leucas. Voices in the Sea.

Physiology

The beluga whale is the only species of whale that is entirely white, although it is born gray and fades gradually with age. The white coloration may provide camouflage amongst snow and ice, as observations of killer whale (Orcinus orca) attacks on belugas show that belugas attempt to hide amongst sea ice to avoid predation.

In adults, a dark pigment is often present on the top of the dorsal ridge and along the edges of the flukes and pectoral flippers.

The head of a beluga whale is dominated by the melon, a fat filled area on top of the frontal portion of the whale’s skull that obscures the rostrum, or upper jaw. It is critical to focusing and projecting echolocation signals and is the means by which the sounds a beluga makes are ultimately projected to the water. The melon can function as an acoustic lens, focusing sound into a beam the way a flashlight’s lens and reflector focus light. Belugas have the ability to change the physical shape of their melon, which may allow them to control sound transmission. The fat composing the melon is distinct; it cannot be broken down to produce energy, indicating its importance.

The beluga whale’s teeth are conical in shape and the upper and lower teeth are interposed. This allows the whales to grasp prey efficiently. Belugas have only one set of teeth throughout their lives and the teeth are not replaced. The number of teeth varies with sex and age and can range from 30 to 40. The size of the teeth depends on the size of the animal with a maximum size of 5 centimeters, (2 inches,) long and 1.8 centimeters, (0.7 in,) thick. In addition, beluga teeth vary in pattern of wear as a result of their feeding from the sea floor. In some older animals, the teeth may be worn down to the gums.

The neck of a beluga whale is very flexible, unlike many other cetaceans whose neck vertebrae are fused. This rare characteristic allows belugas to maneuver as they hunt in very shallow water. It also allows them to escape from predators.

Belugas lack a dorsal fin because it would be prone to injury from ice and would be a site for heat loss. Belugas do, however, have a shallow ridge along their back.

Beluga whales are sexually dimorphic, with the males being slightly larger than the females.

Beluga whale size can vary greatly between different populations of belugas. Climate is probably a factor in determining the body size of belugas in different populations. Beluga whales are typically 4 meters (13 feet,) in length and weigh an average of 1,500 kilograms, or 3,500 pounds. Females attain their adult size at around 7 years of age and average 3.4-4 meters (11-13 feet,) in length and 500-1,000 kilograms (1,100-2,000 pounds,) while males continue to grow, achieving their larger mass at about 14 years of age. Males average 3.7-4.6 meters long (12-15 feet,) and 725-1,500 kilograms (1,600-3,300 pounds,) in weight.

A thick insulating layer of blubber is one of the beluga whale’s greatest adaptations to life in the Arctic. It allows the whale to stay warm even when the water is at freezing temperatures. A beluga’s blubber layer is dynamic, varying in thickness seasonally. Compared to other odontocetes that whose body is only 20% fat, belugas have an unusually thick layer of blubber, accounting for 40–50% of their body weight. Among other cetaceans, only the right whales have a similar body composition. Thicknesses of up to 27 centimeters, or 10.6 inches, have been reported, but 10 centimeters, or 4 inches, is a more typical maximum thickness. A beluga’s thick skin also forms a barrier of protection against abrasion by ice in an arctic environment. The temperature of the beluga’s skin is only a degree or two warmer than the surrounding water, but below the skin, the blubber insulates the internal organs and tissues. Belugas have particularly thick skin, 10 times thicker than dolphin skin and 100 times thicker than the skin of terrestrial mammals.

A beluga’s shape is predominantly the result of its thick blubber layer, which causes a rounded midsection that tapers to a relatively small head and tail. The blubber often results in lumpy sides and undersides, especially in large males. Beluga pectoral flippers are also small in proportion to the whales’ body size.

The reported life expectancies of wild beluga whales vary widely based on the study location and methodology used. The age of the oldest documented beluga whale in the wild was estimated to be 38 years old. Published estimates of adult annual survival rates range from 83% to 97%. When applied to animals that have survived one full year, these annual survival rates can be converted into median life expectancies ranging from 3.49 years to 22.76 years, and average life expectancies ranging from 5.4 years to 32.8 years, respectively. The majority of reported values of life expectancy of wild belugas from one year of age range between 10 and 15 years. The lifespan for female beluga whales is thought to be about 32 years and that for males about 40 years. As of January 2013, the oldest beluga whales in zoological parks and aquariums were over 40 years old. Based on previously published data on wild belugas, it would be quite rare, though not impossible, for an animal in the wild to reach 40 years of age. Based on an analysis of data, the annual survival rate of beluga whales in human care has been calculated as 97%. This is the same as the highest reported value for a wild population. The number can be interpreted as meaning that a one-year-old beluga in human care would have a median life expectancy of 22.76 years, and an average life expectancy of 32.8 years. Thus, it is clear that from one year of age, the adult life expectancy of beluga whales in human care is at least equal to, if not greater than, beluga whales from one year of age in the wild.

SEXUAL DIMORPHISM
Larger Males
BODY LENGTH
3-5 m. / 9-17 ft.
BODY MASS
500-1,600 kg. / 1,100-3,500 lb.
LIFESPAN
32-40 yr.
GENERATION LENGTH
16.4 yr.

Images

Taxonomy

The beluga whale, along with their closest living relative, the narwhal (Monodon monoceros), are the only living species in the cetacean family Monodontidae. Belugas have narrower and pointier appendages than that of the narwhal.

While these are well defined taxa, Heide-Jørgensen and Reeves described a skull from West Greenland in 1993 of what apparently was a narwhal-beluga hybrid.

Beluga whales are the only living member of the genus Delphinapterus. In spite of what the name suggests, belugas are not dolphins, which is a term reserved for members of the family Delphinidae.

The genus and species Delphinapterus leucas were identified by Pallas in 1776.

Some early Russian researchers split beluga whales into three species or subspecies, but that approach was rejected in 1964.

While beluga whales occur broadly in Arctic and Subarctic waters, their distribution, movements, and life history characteristics suggest the existence of numerous subpopulations or management stocks using a diverse range of habitats. Studies using genetic markers have confirmed the existence of at least 21 subpopulations that are largely demographically isolated. The pattern of subpopulation isolation in the Pacific likely results from relatively rapid dispersal into new habitats following recession of the last Pleistocene ice sheets. Land masses and heavy sea ice cover limit interchange between subpopulations across the Arctic, as does strong site fidelity, but climate oscillations in the Holocene may have provided relatively recent opportunities for subpopulations to mix.

KINGDOM
Animalia
PHYLUM
Chordata
CLASS
Mammalia
ORDER
Cetartiodactyla
FAMILY
Monodontidae
GENUS
Delphinapterus
SPECIES
leucas
SUBSPECIES
None

Etymology

Beluga whales, along with their closest living relative, the narwhal (Monodon monoceros), are the only living members of the family Monodontidae. The word Monodontidae comes from the Greek for one tooth, a reference to the tusk of the male narwhal. This is a misnomer for beluga whales, however, because they possess many teeth.

The beluga whale’s genus, Delphinapterus, derives from the Greek words delphinos (dolphin), a (without) and pteron (fin or wing). Belugas lack a dorsal fin, hence the name dolphin without a fin. However, in spite of what the name suggests, belugas are not dolphins, which is a term reserved for members of the family Delphinidae.

Beluga whale voices are so loud that they sound like birds, which is why they were once nicknamed sea canaries.

The beluga whale also gets its name from its white coloring. The species name comes from the Greek word for white, leukos, referring to the color of the adult beluga. Similarly, the common name, beluga, comes from the Russian word for white, belukha. The name has led to some confusion with the beluga (Huso huso), a white sturgeon freshwater fish from which beluga caviar is derived.

The beluga whale has also become known by the nickname white whale, referring to its milky white skin.

ALTERNATE
Beluga, Canary of the Sea, Sea Canary, White Whale
GROUP
Gam, Herd, Mod, Pod, School
MALE
Bull
FEMALE
Cow
YOUNG
Calf

Beluga whales are typically only found in the Northern Hemisphere in Arctic and subarctic waters.

Belugas inhabit seasonally ice-covered arctic and subarctic waters off North America, Asia, and Europe, more specifically along the coasts of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Svalbard, Norway, and Russia. About 500 of them inhabit the waters of the St. Lawrence River.

Occasionally, belugas travel much farther south. Lone belugas have been sighted in Long Island Sound and near Cape Cod.

EXTANT
Canada, Greenland, Russia, Svalbard & Jan Mayen, United States (Alaska)
VAGRANT
Belgium, Denmark, Faroe Islands, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States (Washington)
Habitat

The usual habitat of belugas includes inlets, fjords, channels, bays, and the shallow waters of the Arctic seas that are warmed by continuous sunlight. These waters are usually 8 to 10 degrees Celsius (46-50 degrees Fahrenheit,) but can range from 0 to 16 degrees Celsius (32-60 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Belugas are extremely comfortable among sea ice. Satellite-tagged belugas have traveled from the northwest coast of Alaska north through sea ice concentrations of almost 100%. Some waters are so cold that when a beluga rests at the surface, the water freezes and forms an ice dome molded by the beluga’s back. These domes then remain intact when the whale swims away.

During the summer months of May through July, beluga whales are found at the mouths of rivers, where they feed, socialize, and deliver their offspring. These waters are about ten degrees warmer than their usual arctic environments, at 18 to 20 degrees Celsius (64-68 degrees Fahrenheit), instead of 8 to 10 degrees Celsius (46-50 degrees Fahrenheit). The warmer waters of the estuary benefit neonate calves, as they have a thinner blubber layer than full-grown adults and a strong dependence on their mothers. Females and their calves are especially tied to the estuary and are the first to return after a disturbance, such as boats or hunting.

MARINE NERITIC
Pelagic, Estuaries
MARINE OCEANIC
Epipelagic, Mesopelagic, Bathypelagic

Co-Habitants

Behavior

Beluga whales are social creatures and normally migrate, hunt, and interact in groups. They are rarely found alone and aggregate in groups called pods or schools, most often numbering from two to several dozen animals.

Pod structures are fluid and can contain animals of the same sex and age class. They vary in structure and size seasonally, with individuals moving between specific pods. Grouping of pods is still uncertain, but age and sex seem to play a role. Male belugas most often travel in pods of 10-15 that tend to stay away from other groups. Adult females and their calves and juveniles form pods, while adult females without calves also form their own groups. Even older subadult belugas often form their own pods. Additionally, the amount of separation by age and sex between pods may be more distinct at certain times of the year, such as during migrations or selection of different feeding habitats.

Though all living belugas belong to the same species and are generally confined to Arctic regions, they are sometimes further classified by stocks, or subpopulations. Stocks vary in population size, with some as small as a few hundred and others perhaps as large as 30,000 animals. The home range size of these animals is unknown.

The summer habitats of beluga whales generally include an estuary. Belugas show a high degree of philopatry, or site tenacity/ fidelity, with stocks returning to the same estuaries year after year. Genetic evidence also suggests that the stocks have been visiting separate estuaries for long periods, perhaps since glaciers receded at the end of the last Ice Age, with only limited exchange between the different groups.

Belugas migrate south as the ice pack advances in the autumn, leaving areas of broken pack ice and moving to shallow, brackish estuaries and river mouths in the summer. These patterns indicate that belugas possess an ability to move freely between salt and fresh water, an ability that most other cetaceans do not have.

Beluga whales are unique among cetaceans as they undergo an annual molt. Typically, growth and replacement of the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, of cetaceans is a continuous process. In belugas, though, it is a cyclical process that may be driven by their seasonal migrations between frigid arctic oceans and relatively warm estuarine waters. Given the dramatic change in habitat a beluga undergoes when entering an estuary, the molting process may be controlled by environmental cues such as temperature and salinity. By molting, belugas remove the thick surface layer of the skin that may increase the resistance to the smooth flow of water over the whale. After the molt, the flow of water over the beluga’s skin would be smoother, which would make them more hydrodynamic.

Beluga rubbing, tied to the seasonal epidermal molt, is frequently observed in estuaries. The completion of the molting process may be the most important reason for the belugas’ migration into estuaries.

Only five to ten percent of a beluga’s time is spent at the surface of the water. They are rarely seen breeching, although they bounce vertically out of the water about one-third of the body’s length.

Belugas constantly vocalize and swim around, over, and under each other. They also play with objects in the water together or by themselves. These objects are not limited to wood, plants, dead fish, and even bubbles that they’ve created.

Beluga whales are considered to be among the most vocal species of cetaceans. They use their vocalizations for echolocation, mating, and communication. Beluga whales have a high-frequency level of communication. Their voices are so loud that they sound like birds, which is why they were once nicknamed sea canaries. Their voices sound like chirps, whistles, and squawks.

Belugas also use body language such as grinding their teeth or splashing around. Some communication undoubtedly occurs when babies are in contact with their mothers.

Beluga whales have good vision, both, above and below the water. Like other odontocetes, they can focus in either air or water, an adaptation made possible by their specially adapted lens and cornea. For belugas, which are sometimes hunted by the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), the ability to see in both air and water is especially important. Belugas do not possess both rod and cone cells in their eyes. However, like all other cetaceans, they have only one type of cone. Since two or more types of cones are usually necessary to distinguish colors, belugas probably do not see much color if any at all.

Beluga whales have a very acute hearing, especially at higher frequencies. They hear a wide range of frequencies with the best sensitivity in the ultrasonic range around 30 or 35 kilohertz and sensitivity extending to at least 130 kilohertz. For comparison, the peak range of human hearing is between .02 and 20 kilohertz. Studies have shown that belugas can hear as well in water as deep as 300 meters, (984 feet), as they can at the surface. The small external ears of belugas may be useful for hearing low-frequency sounds, however, most vocalizations made by odontocetes are above 30 kilohertz, emphasizing the great importance of the lower jaw pathway for sound reception. Belugas have good in frequency tuning and are able to detect echolocation signals in high levels of background noise and reverberation. A number of studies have assessed the potential impacts of environmental sound on belugas. These have involved determination of when the level of a particular sound impacted hearing by producing a temporary rise in hearing threshold.

Studies of brain activity of several odontocete species, including beluga whales, show unihemispheric brain waves when they sleep. This means that one hemisphere of the cerebrum is always active during sleep, allowing them to control surfacing and breathing patterns. The sleeping hemisphere switches with the non-sleeping hemisphere many times during the sleeping period. Cetaceans have the ability to swim while sleeping, but a common resting behavior seen is logging, in which the whale lays still at the surface of the water.

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Diurnal
MOVEMENT PATTERN
Full Migrant

Diet

Beluga whales have the most varied diet of any small whale. They are opportunistic feeders and prey upon over 100 species of fish and invertebrates throughout their range.

The beluga whale’s diet varies with season and location and its food intake changes with the water temperature.

Known prey of belugas include: marine fish, such as Arctic cod, salmon, herring, haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), flounder, smelt (Osmerus eperlanus), sole, sculpin, skates, flatfish, and halibut, freshwater fish; such as trout, whitefish, northern pike (Esox lucius), grayling (Thymallus thymallus), and Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod); cephalopods, like squids and octopuses; other mollusks, such as clams, mussels, and snails; crustaceans, like shrimp and crabs; marine worms; and even zooplankton.

Because of their expandable forestomach, belugas can process a large amount of food at once. One whale was found in the Cook Inlet with 12 adult coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) in its stomach, weighing a total of 28 kilograms, or 62 pounds.

The neck of a beluga whale is very flexible, unlike many other cetaceans whose neck vertebrae are fused. This rare characteristic allows belugas to maneuver as they hunt in very shallow water.

Beluga whales do not use their teeth for chewing and, instead use their teeth to grasp prey before eating everything whole. Consequently, a beluga’s prey cannot be too large or the whale will risk choking on it. The beluga’s teeth are conical in shape and the upper and lower teeth are interposed. This allows the whales to grasp prey efficiently.

Beluga whales have incredible flexibility of their tongue and lips and can use their lips to form the shape of an O, a characteristic not shared by any other whale. Because belugas don’t have many big, sharp teeth, they often rely on their flexible tongue to trap prey in their mouths by suction. When capturing prey, a beluga’s tongue forms a seal around the fish, allowing it to swallow the prey without having any water go down the throat. This helps to reduce salt intake and prevent dehydration.

Belugas can also create a very powerful spit by forcing water out of their mouth. This is used to blow away sand, silt, and mud when hunting for benthic prey.

PREFERENCE
Generalist Forager

Prey

Reproduction

Beluga whales tend to mate from late February to early April.

Male beluga whales chase down the females, making all sorts of noises. Once a male finds a suitable female, he throws down his tail and bends violently, then throws his head up and down as his melon vibrates to ward off any other males who might attempt to mate with the female. The male and female, then, swim in harmony and caress each other, until the female swims underneath the male’s belly. The female, then, puts her belly up against his and they continue to swim in harmony with each other. They mate only with absolute consent.

Beluga whale development is similar to that of most other mammals, but it is not completely known. There is either thought to be spontaneous ovulation with an extremely long gestation period or delayed implantation with a shorter gestation period, but it is unknown. Beluga gestation is known to last about fourteen months.

Beluga whale calves are born during the summer months of May through July. The nursery pod stays around during the delivery of a beluga calf, then all of them take off, except a young teenage nursemaid. The baby then stays in-between the mother and the nursemaid as they swim, pulling him with the current.

The white color for which beluga whales are named does not appear until an animal reaches maturity. Beluga whale calves are born a light brown-grey color, which darkens and fades gradually with age before turning the characteristic white. The change in color is not related to sexual maturity, although these events may occur at the same time.

Beluga whale calves are very well developed and precocious, able to swim alongside their mothers from birth.

The mother beluga whale provides protection and guidance for the offspring who is totally dependent on the mother for the first year of life. A female beluga can lactate for up to two years. Beluga calves are totally dependent on the mother’s milk for one year but will eat a combined diet of milk and shrimp into the second year.

Similar to other cetaceans, a beluga’s tongue is used as a straw for nursing when they are young. It curls, similar to a human’s, and rests against the roof of the mouth. It has a water-tight seal due to scalloped edges around the edge of their tongue. Some whales retain these scalloped edges; in others, the edges fade over time.

A young beluga’s teeth appear between 1-2 years of age, depending on location, and all teeth have at least partially appeared by the end of a beluga’s third year.

Female beluga whales become sexually mature at 4 to 7 years of age, while males take 7 to 9 years. Females reproduce every 2 to 3 years and stop reproducing in their early twenties.

BREEDING SEASON
February-April
BREEDING INTERVAL
2-3 Years
ESTROUS CYCLE
34-40 Days
PARENTAL INVESTMENT
Cooperative Breeding, Maternal
GESTATION
14 Months
BIRTHING SEASON
May-July
LITTER
1
WEANING
1-2 Years
INDEPENDENCE
2 Years
SEXUAL MATURITY
4-9 Years

Killer whales (Orcinus orca), polar bears (Ursus maritimus), and humans prey on beluga whales, however, neither killer whales nor polar bears are currently a significant threat to beluga populations. Polar bears will attack belugas in the same way they would attack a seal, which entails lying in wait at breathing holes. Killer whales come around August. Belugas can usually hear killer whales, so this makes it difficult for the orcas to attack them. Also, the conspicuous fin makes it almost impossible for a killer whale to maneuver in ice. Observations of killer whale attacks on belugas show that the whales attempt to hide amongst sea ice to avoid predation.

Beluga whales seem to have a parasite called Pharurus pallasii, thought to infect the hearing organs. However, it is not known if this parasite is harmful to the beluga.

Although beluga whales were hunted intensively on a commercial basis for skin, oil, and leather in many parts of their range during the 20th century, the only known direct removals at present are for food (subsistence use) and the aquarium trade.

Belugas also consume many fish, especially since they travel in herds of between one hundred and a thousand, thus reducing the amount of fish fisherman can capture and promoting the hunting of beluga whales. Much of the hunting of belugas has died down since the seventies, however.

Now, because of their large social groupings, belugas provide ecotourists with entertainment.

FOOD
Local
HANDICRAFTS, JEWELLERY, ETC.
Local
PETS/DISPLAY ANIMALS, HORTICULTURE
National, International

Predators

Conservation

As a species, belug whales do not meet any IUCN criteria for threatened categories and are listed as Least Concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Belugas in Cook Inlet have been assessed by IUCN as a separate subpopulation and are classified on the Red List as Critically Endangered.

Several other subpopulations are small, declining, and/or occupy restricted areas, and warrant Red List assessment at the subpopulation level.

The beluga whale is the most abundant of arctic cetaceans and is widely distributed in a number of distinct subpopulations, most recently set at 21, but the number varies according to the source or authority.

Total beluga whale numbers worldwide are well above 150,000 animals. Combining the most current abundance estimates for the various subpopulations results in a total of more than 195,000 whales. Given that there are no estimates for most of the Russian High Arctic, total abundance is likely more than 200,000. At least four subpopulations number more than 20,000 individuals.

Some subpopulations are reduced below historical levels and some small subpopulations are declining but data are not adequate to assess overall population reduction or trend.

The IWC organized information on the basis of 29 management stocks and recognized that these were provisional. Some of the stock boundaries overlap spatially and seasonally, complicating assessment. Many of the sub-populations or stocks maintain distinct or contiguous geographical ranges during the summer months and mix during the spring and autumn migrations and share common wintering quarters. While good abundance estimates are available for some beluga sub-populations/stocks, the size of others is virtually unknown.

FRAGMENTATION
Not Fragmented
THREATS

The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (CAFF 2013) lists threats to arctic marine mammals as harvest, loss of sea ice, human activities, pollution, and disease. Beluga whales are susceptible to all those threats, but their importance varies among the many beluga subpopulations.

It is not uncommon for groups of belugas to become trapped in areas that ice over, often restricting them to small holes in the ice for breathing. If the ice does not break up in time for them to escape, the whales face suffocation or starvation. In an unusual incident in 1984-85, up to 3,000 belugas were trapped in Russia’s Senjavin Strait. Solid ice stretching 12 miles blocked the path to open water and 1,000 belugas died from hunting, hunger, lack of air, and injuries.

Despite relative isolation from humans, human activities are negatively affecting beluga whales. These activities include habitat alteration in estuarine environments as a result of hydroelectric development in rivers. Other long-term threats are competition with fisheries, off-shore oil exploration, vessel traffic, and pollution. Humans used to hunt belugas for their skin and oil, but not much anymore.

Hunting for human consumption is the biggest known threat to beluga whales across certain portions of their range. The most immediate concerns relate to continuing harvests from small and depleted subpopulations. The strong philopatry of belugas, which causes them to return to the same estuaries year after year, makes them highly vulnerable to overexploitation. This behavioral trait is undoubtedly the most important natural factor that has led to the extirpation of belugas from some parts of their range by a combination of commercial and subsistence hunting such as in southwestern Greenland and some river mouths in Ungava Bay, Canada. In nearly all regions, hunting is now being controlled by limiting takes to sustainable levels.

RESIDENTIAL & COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Commercial & Industrial Areas
ENERGY PRODUCTION & MINING
Oil & Gas Drilling
TRANSPORTATION & SERVICE CORRIDORS
Shipping Lanes
BIOLOGICAL RESOURCE USE
Fishing & Harvesting Aquatic Resources
NATURAL SYSTEM MODIFICATIONS
Dams & Water Management/Use
POLLUTION
Domestic & Urban Waste Water, Industrial & Military Effluents, Agricultural & Forestry Effluents
CLIMATE CHANGE & SEVERE WEATHER
Habitat Shifting & Alteration
ACTIONS

The Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga (JCNB) is expected to ensure the conservation of shared stocks of beluga whales while NAMMCO is a regional management body to which Canada, Greenland, and Norway belong. Catch limits and other recommendations on conservation of belugas are made on the basis of advice from joint meetings of the JCNB’s Scientific Working Group and NAMMCO’s Scientific Committee Working Group on the Population Status of Narwhal and Beluga in the North Atlantic. Catch levels from hunted beluga subpopulations range anywhere from less than ten to a few hundred animals per year. There is concern that Cumberland Sound Belugas are being hunted at unsustainable levels, but removals from the Bristol Bay, Eastern Bering Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, and Eastern Beaufort Sea subpopulations are considered sustainable.

In both Canada and Alaska, indigenous peoples’ organizations have entered into co-management agreements with government agencies to work on conservation of beluga whale stocks. Harvests from the Eastern Beaufort Sea subpopulation occur in both Alaska and Canada, and that is managed by an agreement between the North Slope Borough in Alaska and the Inuvialuit Game Council in Canada.

As a species, the beluga whale is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The SLE Beluga subpopulation is listed as endangered and the Cumberland Sound subpopulation as threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Act.

The Cook Inlet Beluga subpopulation is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Sakhalin subpopulation is listed as depleted under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

In Svalbard, the Beluga is a protected species.

FaunaFacts

Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale

Female beluga whales become sexually mature before males, at 4-7 years, and reproduce every 2-3 years until about 20 years of age.

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Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale

Beluga whale calves are able to swim alongside their mothers from birth but are totally dependent on them for the first year of life.

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Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale

Beluga whales have a loose, fatty region on top of their head, called a melon, that is critical for echolocation.

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