The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Distribution and Habitat


Beluga whales have a discontinuous circumpolar distribution, and in general occur only in seasonally ice-covered parts of Arctic and sub-Arctic seas. Some isolated populations, however, extend into subarctic regions as far south as the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

 Beluga Greenland Canada map and legend

Beluga Sval FJL cropped


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. Their seasonal movements depend on both oceanographic conditions (primarily the dynamics of ice cover) and the distribution of their primary prey species (Boltunov and Belikov 2002). Belugas usually travel in pods of 2 to 10 whales, although larger pods are not uncommon. Females with young are found in calm shallow waters along reef edges, close to islands and in large bays. These areas have a warm surface temperature and sand, gravel or mud bottoms that support molluscs, crustacea and bottom fish. Adults and weaned young prefer areas where the water depth varies, where surface temperatures are cold, and where there are reef bottoms of sand and gravel or deep bottoms of sandy mud and coarse material.


TJacobsen Beluga whales Midterhuken Bellsund MG 6538 2

Photo: T. Jacobsen, Polarimages

nmmlweb belugawhale 15 Photo Vicki Beaver

Photo: Vicki Beaver, Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, NOAA.