Belugas are large animals: their body length is 3-5 meters, weight is 500-1500 kg. Males are about 25% longer than females and almost twice their mass.
Newborn whales are brown, then they gradually brighten, acquiring a gray color by the age of one. Adults are white or slightly yellowish.
A characteristic feature of beluga whales is the mobile neck, thanks to which they, unlike most cetaceans, are able to turn their heads from side to side.
Another feature is the absence of the dorsal fin. Instead, the beluga along the back (from the middle of the body and to the tail) is a crest.
It is noteworthy that the white whale can change the expression "face". When the whale is at rest, it seems as if he is smiling. But the demonstration of open mouth with 32-40 teeth is especially impressive.
Their teeth are cut only in the second or third year of life, and it is possible that their main function is not chewing at all. Belugas often click their jaws, and their teeth can be used to get a louder sound. In addition, they like to demonstrate their "smile" to their relatives.
Adults have a well-pronounced melon (rounded fat pad on the forehead), but it develops slowly, and in newborns is completely absent. In one-year-old cubs, melon is already quite large, but poorly separated from the snout. Only by the age of 5-8 years (it is at this time that puberty begins), the fat pad takes on its usual form.
Melon is used to focus sounds during echolocation. This ability is vital for targeting and searching for prey in murky water or in darkness.
Nature made sure that the white whale does not freeze in cold water, providing it with a layer of fat. Moreover, this layer is so thick that the head seems too small for such a body.
In prehistoric times, belugas lived in the waters of temperate zones. Today, they live only in the cold Arctic seas of northern Russia and North America, as well as in Greenland and Spitsbergen. They are found both in coastal waters and in the open ocean, and in summer in river estuaries.
In the Beaufort Sea during the migration to the east, beluga whales stop for about a week in the vast Mackenzie River delta and then continue their journey. In some areas, such as Svalbard, whales come to the foot of the glaciers.
Most of the year, beluga whales spend far from the coast, in areas with large amounts of ice, and sometimes in large polynyas in pack ice.
From June to September, these hundreds of whales gather in wide estuaries of rivers. At this time they molt: the old yellowed skin peels off, replaced by a new shiny white skin.
The most sociable whales
Singing whales are one of the most social animals among cetaceans. They are rarely seen alone. Clusters of hundreds and thousands of belugas are fairly common and often cover an area of many square kilometers. It seems that such a cluster behaves as a whole, but if you look from above, you can see that it consists of many small groups, usually including individuals of the same size or sex. Females with calves get together, large adult males also form separate groups.
Between the white whales communicate through sound signals and facial expressions. They make a lot of variety of sounds, including mumbling, chirping, whistling, gnashing, etc. Under water, the sounds of the herds of these whales resemble the sound of a barnyard. Some acoustic signals emitted by them can be heard above the water.
Moving mouth and neck allow beluga whales to communicate with each other and using facial expressions.
What do white whales eat?
The diet of beluga whales is quite diverse. All kinds of schooling fish, flounder, various worms, shrimps, crustaceans and mollusks serve as food objects for them.
Singing whales usually hunt near the bottom at depths of up to 500 meters. They can dive to a depth of over 1000 meters, limiting them only the duration of the respiratory pause, which normally is 10-20 minutes.
The movable neck allows cetaceans to visually and acoustically scan a large surface area of the bottom. They can both suck up the water, and let it out in order to get the hidden victim from the shelter.
Pregnancy lasts 14-15 months. Childbirth most often occurs at the beginning of summer, when ice on the sea breaks open. Usually one cub is born, twins are extremely rare.
Immediately after birth, a strong bond is established between mother and baby. A baby can eat breast milk for more than two years. All this time, mother and baby are almost inseparable. The full reproductive cycle of pregnancy and lactation takes 3 years or more.
Conservation of belugas in nature
Belugas return to their summer habitats along the same routes, even if they are hunted there. Such constancy has made this species particularly vulnerable. They are so conservative in the preference of familiar migration routes and breeding sites that they do not populate the vacated territories where the population was exterminated. One of these places - the bay Ungava on the peninsula Labrador. Previously, white whales were quite numerous here, but today they practically do not occur.
In the XYIII and XIX centuries, American and European whalers drove hundreds of belugas to the shore. The indigenous population also led them to hunt, but in the past they hunted a relatively small number of animals without causing significant harm to the population. In the equipment of modern Eskimo hunters include rapid-fire rifles, harpoon guns and motor boats, so such a hunt could seriously undermine the population of cetaceans.
Currently, the number of beluga whales around the world is estimated at about 100 thousand, and the total annual catch ranges from hundreds to several thousand individuals. But the greatest concern is caused by the degradation of the beluga’s habitats due to the development of oil fields and the construction of hydropower plants, although global warming may also be a problem in the future.
To understand what a white whale looks like, you need to imagine a huge dolphin with a small head without a beak ("nose"). A characteristic feature of the animal is the presence of a large prominent forehead on the head, which is why beluga whites are often called "lobasty". Their cervical vertebrae are not fused; therefore, these representatives of cetaceans, unlike most of their relatives, can turn their heads in different directions.
The belugas have small oval pectoral fins and a powerful tail, but there is no dorsal fin.
Adult animals (older than three years) have a monochromatic white skin, from which their name comes. Babies are born blue or even dark blue, but after a year their skin brightens and becomes a delicate bluish-gray tint.
Beluga is a mammal of impressive size: males reach 5-6 meters in length and weigh at least 1.5-2 tons, females are smaller.
These marine inhabitants have chosen the waters of the Arctic Ocean - the Kara, Barents, Chukchi seas. In the White Sea are often found near the Solovetsky Islands. The most densely white whales are settled between 50 ° and 80 ° north latitude. The marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean - the Sea of Okhotsk, Japan and Bering, inhabit the Baltic Sea (the Atlantic Ocean basin).
Belukha is a marine mammal, but in pursuit of prey it often enters the great northern rivers - the Amur, Ob, Lena, Yenisei, sailing upstream hundreds of kilometers.
The basis of the ration of belugas is the schooling fish - capelin, herring, Arctic cod, cod, Pacific navaga. They like to eat flounder, whitefish or salmon, less often hunt for crustaceans and cephalopods.
These mammals are sent to fish by a large flock. "Conversation" among themselves and acting together, they drive fish to shallow water, where it is more convenient to catch it.
The white beluga sucks and swallows its prey entirely. An adult consumes at least 15 kg of fish per day.
Belukha - a mammal that is protected. The population of "white whales" was greatly reduced in the XVIII-XIX centuries, when they became the coveted prey of whalers because of the high quality fat, delicious tender meat and thick, hard skins. Later, the capture of the beluga became controlled, and at present, the number of these animals is, according to approximate calculations, 200 thousand individuals. Therefore, there is no obvious threat of disappearance of belugas, although they suffer greatly because of the intensive development of the Arctic by people and pollution of the waters of the Arctic Ocean.
The beluga whales have very developed muzzle muscles, so they are able to change the expression of the “face”, that is, to demonstrate sadness or anger, joy or boredom. This amazing ability is not inherent in all underwater inhabitants.
Belugas swim in the northern latitudes, their natural insulation provides strong skin up to two centimeters thick and a powerful layer of fat up to 15 cm thick. This protects animals from hypothermia.
Belugas are called "polar canaries" or "singing whales" because they make up to 50 different sounds, as well as ultrasonic clicks, through which they communicate with each other. It was from the ability of the "white whales" to make loud sounds that the Russian idiom "roar beluga" went.
Belukha - whale or dolphin?
Now you know everything about this marine. But it remains an open question whether the beluga whale is a whale or a dolphin. In the people it is called none other than the polar or white dolphin. This name originated due to the appearance and habitat of the animal. But in the biological sense, the white whale belongs to the whale squad, and the dolphin can be called its cousin. The evolutionary paths of their ancestors diverged several million years ago. Therefore, it is more correct to say that the white whale is a whale, and not a dolphin.
What does a white whale look like?
Males reach 6 m in length and weigh up to 2 t, females are slightly smaller. During life, the color of the white whale changes: the skin of newborn babies has a bright blue tint, after a year it becomes bluish-gray, and at the age of 3-5 years - white. It is for this skin color that the animal was called beluga. The vertebrae on the neck are not fused together, so the white whale, unlike most whales, is able to turn its head, which is helpful when maneuvering in the ice. The skin of belugas is as dense as armor, protecting animals from damage while swimming among the ice. A thick layer of subcutaneous fat, amounting to 40% of the body weight of the beluga, saves from hypothermia. It does not have a dorsal fin, therefore the Latin name of the animal was given the delphinapterus, which translates as “wingless dolphin”.
In the Red Book
Back in 1996, the protection status of the white whales in the Red Book of the World was VU. The population of the species is currently about 100,000 individuals, and at the same time in recent years, in some regions, the beluga whale has practically disappeared. In the International Red List, the guarding status of the white whale is NT. But this does not mean that the current state of the species can be assessed as prosperous. The global population of the white whale consists of a large number of local subpopulations; therefore, local processes are reflected in the species as a whole. The most serious threat to the existence of the species is whaling. Since the white whales are characterized by philopatry, they are very predictable. Poachers easily calculate those estuaries in which there will be many belugas in the summer, and the species becomes vulnerable. In addition, the general pollution of the World Ocean, oil production, industrial fishing, global climate change - all this led to the fact that the beluga whale belongs to the protected category NT.
In winter, belugas usually stick to the ice edge. However, they can penetrate very far into the glaciation zone. Here beluga whales find openings to which they swim to breathe. They are also able to make holes in the ice crust on their own, causing quick and sharp backstroke movements on the ice. Belugas maintain polynyas throughout the winter, since if the holes are drawn in too thick a layer of ice, the animals may die.