The Beluga whales(Delphinapterus leucas), literally translated as “the dolphin without a fin that is white”, are one of the two species of the family Monodontidae; the other being another oddity called the Narwhal. Their family is most closely related to dolphins among whales and perhaps arose 30 -to 40 million years ago. The earliest ancestor fossil for this species was found near Baja, California; indicates that they could have descended from warm water species.
The beluga whale is about 13-20 feet and weighs about 1.5 tonnes(up to 40% of which is blubber for insulation). They can live up to 40 years in the wild. They roam about in pods of up to 10 individuals but larger super pods are seen where schools of cod are in abundance. They are very social and are sometimes called canaries of the sea due to the variety and frequency of their calls.
These whales inhabit the Arctic waters and migrate south during the winters when the arctic is covered in sheet ice.They whales have fabulous adaptations for their cold and mostly underwater environment. They have lost the dorsal fin(much like shark’s top fin) and instead have a narrow ridge on their backs which helps navigate underneath ice and also help prevent heat loss.
The 34 teeth in their mouth help tear their prey which mostly consists of fish, octopi and crabs. They can hold their breath for as long as 15 minutes and slow their heart rate from 100 to 15-20 beats per minute so that energy is not wasted.
They also have a pronounced melon-like head which is basically a sonar and help them ping prey in the icy cold deep waters that they inhabit. They can also turns their head in all directions, up and down and side to side, unlike any other whale species because their 7 neck vertebrae are not fused together.
Belugas give birth to one calf every three years. The calf is born after a pregnancy of one year and are able to swim with the mother immediately after birth. They start suckling mother’s milk which has 8 times more fat than cow milk and collect up a lot of blubber. The nursing can sometimes continue on to about two years although the baby starts taking meat within a year of birth.
They are not globally threatened as a species but due to local hunting practices they are critically endangered in certain areas of their habitat. There is also a lack of data because of the severe cold. However, these social animals are kept in lots of aquariums and theme parks so you can get to see them easily.