Updated: Oct 15
Beluga whales are known for their light color and wide range of vocal sounds, even earning the nickname “sea canary”. They form pods to hunt, migrate and interact with each other. They can be found anywhere from the Arctic to sub-Arctic waters, continental United States waters, as well as all around Alaska. In the state of Alaska, they typically stay around coastal bays and inlets and can switch between fresh and saltwater. Like most marine mammals, they possess a thick layer of fat called blubber which they use to keep their body temperature higher even in Arctic waters. Belugas blubber is about five inches thick. Belugas also lack a dorsal fin so that they can efficiently swim through the ice. Belugas are vulnerable to many threats such as pollution, habitat deterioration, overfishing, oil spills, and predation of killer whales. Commercial fishing used to be much bigger of an issue but since these activities have been banned, the threat has since lessened. Though some Alaskan natives still hunt marine mammals for subsistence, it is necessary to keep their culture alive.
Belugas are a very social species. Every summer they return to their birthplace to hunt and calve. Pods may range anywhere from two whales to hundreds of whales and these groups are always changing. Belugas, unlike orcas, move pods every once in a while. Orcas stay with the same pod their entire life, changing pods can cause them to become depressed because of the close ties they form with their pod mates. Beluga whales are also known as the “canaries of the sea” because of the number of different sounds they make. They have been said to moo, chirp, whistle, squeal, and click. They are also able to mimic sounds that they hear. They rely on these noises and their hearing for echolocation. They use this to hunt and make sure that they don’t crash into anything.
Belugas have a very wide diet range. They eat octopus, squid, crabs, shrimp, clams, snails, and sandworms. They also eat a variety of fish, including salmon, eulachon, cod, herring, smelt, and flatfish. They are opportunistic predators so they will eat almost anything they can catch, but primarily, they prey on hundreds of different bottom-dwelling creatures. A beluga whale's flexible neck allows for a wide range of movement while foraging along the ocean floor. Studies show that belugas can produce suction and a strong jet of water with their mouths which, like that of walruses, dislodges prey from the bottom making them easier to find. Beluga whales also hunt schooling fish. In groups of five or more, Belugas herd the fish into shallow water before attacking.
The Beluga whale has very few predators. Only a few animals are big enough to hunt them. Their only main predators are the polar bear and the orca whale.
Belugas are some of the cutest animals in the sea and if you would like to learn more about them and other marine life check out some other articles on the Beachlex site!