The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Mads Peter Heide Jorgensen swimming pod belugas Pod MPHJ

Photo: Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

The beluga (Norwegian: hvithval; Greenlandic: qilalugaq qaqortaq; Faroese: hvítfiskur; Icelandic: mjaldur) or white whale, is a medium-sized toothed whale. Beluga whales have stout bodies, flexible necks and a disproportionately small head with a well defined beak and a prominent forehead bulge or "melon". They have short but broad paddle-shaped flippers, no dorsal fin, a narrow ridged back and a broad tail fluke with a deeply notched centre. Adult beluga whales grow to lengths of 3-5 m, and can weigh up to 1,500 kg. Males grow slightly larger than females. Newborns are brown or slate-grey in colour and average 1.6 m in length and 78 kg in weight. They become bluish-grey as they mature, then progressively lighten in colour, fading to white after 6 years of age. 

 Beluga Greenland Canada map and legend

Beluga Sval FJL cropped


Belugas are found in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, in areas that are seasonally ice-covered. They are found in the northern waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. 


There are many populations of belugas, some large and some small. Over 10,000 belugas occur off West Greenland in the fall, winter and spring. Another population can be found year-round in the Svalbard area.

Relation to Humans

Hunted by native peoples for food throughout their range. Past commercial harvesting reduced numbers in some areas.

Conservation and Management

International management regime under the Joint Commission for the Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga (JCNB) and NAMMCO.

In West Greenland, hunting quotas have been introduced, harvests have been reduced and the stock is thought to be recovering from previous overhunting.


North Atlantic Stocks: Exploitation and Assessment Status

Beluga Assessment Table 2