The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission

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General Characteristics

V Bakken three swimming belugas Bakken1

Belugas often frequent shallow estuaries during the summer. The middle, greyish animal is a calf. Photo: V. Bakken.

 

Bel all

Belugas live in cold Arctic waters.

Size

Adult beluga whales grow to lengths of 3–5 m, and can weigh up to 1,500 kg. Males grow slightly larger than females.

Productivity

One calf every 2–3 years from 7–12 years of age.

Lifespan

85–90 years.

Migration

Throughout their range belugas inhabit cold Arctic waters, living amongst pack ice, in leads and polynyas in winter and migrating to shallow bays and estuaries of large northern rivers in the summer.

Feeding

Mainly fish, particularly polar cod (Boreogadus saida) and Arctic cod (Actogadus glacialis). Also northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) and squid in some areas and times.

Names

Latin: Delphinapterus leucas

Faroese: Hvítfiskur
Greenlandic: Qilalugaq qaqortaq
Icelandic: Mjaldur
Norwegian: Hvithval

English: The English name “beluga” comes from the Russian word belukha, which means “white”.

General

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. The generic name “delphinapterus”, meaning “dolphin-without-a-wing” reflects the absence of a dorsal fin.

 

Mads Peter Heide Jorgensen belugas swimming in ice bel ice 96

Belugas swimming in ice-choked waters. Note the lack of dorsal fin. Photo M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

Mads Peter Heide Jorgensen belugas swimming belugas

Belugas are social animals and often form large groups. Photo M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.

Video of belugas being hunted by polar bears at an ice entrapment.
Video of belugas in the Gulf of St Lawrence.
Belugas are often kept in marine parks, and here is a video of a captive beluga giving birth.