Beluga whale

Belukha is a rare species of toothed whale and one of the largest mammals on Earth. It can be easily distinguished by its unique coloration and body shape. Born blue or light gray, the beluga whale turns white by puberty. The magnificent head looks very much like a dolphin with a characteristic smile and an intelligent, inquisitive look. The lack of a dorsal fin and the movable head give the impression of a swaddled human.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Beluga whale

Photo: Belukha

The name Delphinapterus leucas comes from the Greek “delphis” meaning dolphin. “Apterus” literally translates to without a wing, which immediately indicates the absence of a noticeable dorsal fin in the beluga whale. Species name «leucas » comes from the Greek «leucos» — white.

By type, Delphinapterus leucas belongs to the highest chordates. This oceanic cetacean mammal belongs to the narwhal family. The only representative of the genus Belukha — (Delphinapterus de Lacépède, 1804).

Video: White whale

The first description of the beluga whale was created by the end of the 18th century. Researcher Petr Pallas, while in Russia, heard about an unusual animal and wrote down the stories of eyewitnesses. Subsequently, during a visit to the Gulf of Ob, the naturalist was lucky to personally see and describe in detail a white whale in 1776. The animal was entered and classified in zoo reference books in 1804.

The beluga whale is considered a real find for biologists of all countries and is still considered to be an animal that has not been fully studied. Disputes about the unity of the white whale species arose in the middle of the twentieth century. Some biologists tried to divide the toothed whale into species, while others insisted on a single standardization.

Hypotheses about the origin of the species and disputes about the structure of the animal genus raged until the beginning of the 21st century. Today, an agreement has been reached on the issue of belonging to the species. The white whale is defined by the one and only kind of beluga whale.

Interesting fact: Scientists believe that the first whales descended from terrestrial mammals that returned to the water 55-60 million years ago. The first representatives of the narwhal family appeared later — 9-10 million years ago in the Pacific Northeast.

Appearance and Features

Photo: White whale mammal

Photo: White whale mammal

The beluga whale is called the oceanic dolphin. A beautiful small head with a characteristic relief process, an elongated nose and a «smiling» mouth unmistakably betrays a relative of dolphins in the whale. The mobile head of the beluga whale distinguishes it from other relatives in the detachment. This feature has been preserved in the species due to the vertebrae that have not fused, as in other representatives of cetaceans.

Due to this feature, the toothed whale has outwardly pronounced shoulders, a wide chest and a body tapering towards the tail. The skin is smooth, glossy, elastic. The body length of an adult whale reaches 6 meters. Beluga has disproportionately small front fins compared to the body. Their length is 1% of the total body length – 60 cm, their width – 30 cm. Tiny flippers are compensated by the width of the tail. Its span is a meter, and sometimes more.

The anatomical and physiological features of the whale are adapted to life in the Arctic. The weight of an adult male can vary from 1600 to 2000 kilograms. A large percentage of the weight is subcutaneous fat. In white whales, it can reach half the body weight, while in other whales — only 20%.

Animals have well developed hearing. The unique properties of echolocation allow the beluga whale to find breathing holes under the ocean ice. In the graceful jaw of a white whale, there are from 30 to 40 teeth. They have a wedge-shaped shape, which occurs due to the friction of the teeth against each other. This is due to the oblique bite of the whale. Slightly protruding jaws and slanting teeth allow the beluga whale to bite off prey.

These whales — slow swimmers. The speed is from 3 to 9 km per hour. However, a beluga whale can develop a maximum speed of 22 km per hour and hold it for 15 minutes. They have good maneuverability. They can move both forward and backward.

They enter shallow water when the water barely covers the body. Beluga whales usually do not dive very deep, about 20 meters. However, they are able to dive to extreme depths. Under the conditions of the experiment, a trained beluga whale easily made several dives of 400 meters. Another whale plunged to 647 meters. A typical dive lasts less than 10 minutes, but they can stay underwater for more than 15 minutes.

Where does the white whale live?

Photo: Beluga whale

Photo: Beluga whale

Toothed whale lives in northern waters:

  • Ocean;
  • Sea;
  • Bays;
  • Fjords.

It enters the shallow waters of the Arctic seas, continuously heated by sunlight. There are cases when beluga whales appear in the mouths of rivers. This takes place during the summer. Whales feed, communicate and produce offspring. The water temperature at this time is from 8 to 10 degrees Celsius.

Belugas are found in the arctic and subarctic oceans of Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and Alaska. There are isolated populations in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Sea of ​​Okhotsk in eastern Russia. Throughout their range, there are various populations that occupy certain areas of the northern oceans.

Beluga whales live in the White and Kara Seas. They often visit shallower coastal areas but can dive several hundred meters in search of food. The toothed whale is found off the coast of Russia, Canada, Greenland, Alaska. Appears in eastern Hudson Bay, Ungava Bay, and the St. Lawrence River.

The beluga whale spends the winter months off the coast of Greenland, and with the onset of heat, it sails to the western shores of the Davis Strait. There is evidence that whales have been encountered off the coast of Scotland in the Edinburgh Channel. Until the middle of the last century, the beluga whale entered the large rivers Ob, Yenisei, Lena, Amur, sometimes rising hundreds of miles upstream.

Belugas are most common in the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean, but are also found in subarctic waters. Whales migrate south in large flocks when the water starts to freeze.

What does a beluga whale eat?

Photo: Beluga whale animal

Photo: Beluga whale animal

Belugas eat quite a variety of things. They prey on approximately 100 biological species, predominantly living on the seabed. The diet of the beluga whale consists entirely of marine food.

Remains of crustaceans and invertebrates are found in the stomachs of beluga whales:

  • Octopuses;
  • Cuttlefish;
  • Crabs;
  • Shellfish;
  • Sandworms.

The toothed whale has its own preferences in fish.

The diet includes:

  • Celin;
  • Cod;
  • Herring;
  • Smelt;
  • Flounder.

Based on When white whales are kept in captivity, they eat from 18 to 27 kilograms of food per day. That's 2.5-3% of their total body weight.

Beluga whales usually hunt in shallow water. The flexible neck allows it to perform complex maneuvers while hunting. Observations show that the beluga whale can take water into its mouth and push it out under strong pressure, as walruses do. A powerful jet washes out the bottom. Suspension in sand and food rises. In this way, the whale can pick up prey from the bottom of the sea.

Beluga whale hunts for flocks of fish. Having gathered in a group of 5 or more whales, belugas drive schools of fish into shallow water, and then attack. The whale is unable to chew food. He swallows her whole. Teeth are designed to securely hold prey when hunting or tear it.

Zoologists also found wood chips, sand, stones and paper in the stomachs of belugas. In all likelihood, these elements enter the body of whales while hunting in shallow water. Whales cannot swallow food whole. Their swallowing apparatus is not adapted for this and they can simply choke. Therefore, beluga whales catch small fish, or pinch off and tear it.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Photo: Beluga whale

Photo: Beluga whale

Belugas — herd animals. They gather in groups of several hundred individuals. There are cases when the colony of beluga whales reached more than a thousand mammals. Beluga whales need air. Whales spend about 10% of their time on the surface.

The whale has well-developed communication skills. Beluga whales communicate in the high frequency range and use echolocation. The sounds produced are sharp and loud. They are like the calls of birds. For this, the beluga whales were nicknamed «sea canaries». Their voices sound like chirping, whistling and screaming. The toothed whale is considered one of the loudest in its biological order. He uses vocals during play, mating and communication.

Beluga whales also use body language to communicate and communicate. They give signals, grind their teeth, persistently swim around their relatives, in every possible way drawing attention to themselves or the subject that interests them.

Biologists have proven that beluga whales use communication when raising offspring. They take care, graze and protect their cubs. In order to protect their offspring, they enter the mouths of large rivers, where they spend up to several weeks. At this time, they molt and raise their young.

White whales are very curious animals with a lively mind and very smart. I get in touch with people. They accompany ships, sometimes paying with their own lives.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Beluga whale

Photo: Beluga whale

Mating takes place between February and May. Males attract the attention of females by flirting, racing, playing and diving. At the same time, they make loud sounds, clicking and whistling. In the struggle for females, males demonstrate their strength and superiority to rivals. Males use tail slaps in the water, head shaking, harsh frightening sounds, and body language. They cut off the opponent with a sharp tilt of the body, block the road and in every possible way demonstrate that the territory is closed.

The decision to mate is made by the female. Petting white whales — beautiful sight. The couple plays, swims synchronously and touches bodies. Offspring appear between March and September. Pregnancy lasts 400-420 days. Zoologists are sure that female white whales are able to slow down the bearing and birth of cubs. This assumption is based on the fact that births in the group occur at almost the same time. Since the process of conception is difficult to synchronize, the theory of restraint of fetal development has arisen.

Newborn white whale calves weigh about 80 kilograms. The color of the babies is blue or gray. Calves stay with their mother for at least two years. All this time they are fed with milk. Lactation in a whale lasts from 1.5 to 2 years. Newborn babies are between two females: a mother and a teenage nanny. The cub is taken care of, protected and raised for a breath of air.

Whales reach sexual maturity by 4-7 years. Their maximum life expectancy is 50 years. It is believed that females live on average up to 32 years, males up to 40.

Natural enemies of beluga whales

Photo: Beluga whales in the sea

Photo: Beluga whales in the sea

In nature, the white whale has a lot of enemies. As a rule, these are larger predators both under water and on the shore. The nature of the predator, size and abundance depends on the habitat of the white whale. Among them are killer whales, polar bears, Greenland sharks.

Belugas — very easy prey for a polar bear. The white whale comes close to the icebergs on which the hunting bears are located. Sometimes bears come to the migrating ice specifically to hunt, and sometimes they stay on it for several days. Polar bears hunt down belugas and attack with claws and teeth.

Fun fact: Beluga whales have several options for protecting — camouflage, the ability to hide in the ice and behind a larger tribesman who is able to repel a predator attack.

Killer whales have a different way of hunting. As the pod of white whales begins their migration, the killer whale joins the group and accompanies it most of the way, constantly attacking and feeding. Beluga whales can usually hear killer whales, so this makes it difficult to attack them. Due to the low maneuverability of killer whales in the ice, belugas manage to evade their pursuers.

Greenland sharks pursue a flock and attack not only at the time of migration, but also in their habitats. However, white whales are able to provide collective resistance. Often, animals are trapped in the Arctic ice and die, becoming the prey of polar bears, killer whales and the local population.

Humans remain the greatest danger and threat to the survival of the species. Commercial hunting for whale skin and blubber has significantly reduced the animal's numbers. The main danger for these whales is toxic and industrial waste, garbage, as well as climate and environmental changes in their breeding and habitat areas.

Scientists note that noise pollution affects belugas. The sharp growth and development of shipping, an increase in the flow of wild tourists interferes with normal reproduction and leads to a decrease in the number of calves, and as a result — herd reduction.

Population and species status

Photo: Beluga whale

Photo: Beluga whale

Estimates of the number of beluga whales vary greatly . The difference in numbers is tens of thousands. This is a rather large error for such a small species.

The current worldwide population is between 150,000 and 180,000 animals. 30 toothed whale habitats marked — 12 are located on the territory of the Russian Federation. The largest group of whales – more than 46% — constantly off the coast of Russia.

Habitats of the main population:

  • Bristol Bay;
  • East Bering Sea;
  • Chukotka sea;
  • Beaufort Sea;
  • North Land;
  • West Greenland;
  • West, South, and East Hudson Bay;
  • Saint Lawrence River;
  • Spitsbergen;
  • Franz Josef Land;
  • Ob Bay;
  • Yenisei Bay;
  • Onega Bay;
  • Dvinskaya Bay;
  • Laptev Sea;
  • Western Chukchi Sea;
  • East Siberian Sea;
  • Anadyr Bay;
  • Shelikhov Bay;
  • Sakhalin — the Amur River;
  • Shantar Islands.

Canadian ichthyologists count between 70,000 and 90,000 belugas in their region. The western Hudson Bay population is said to be the largest in Canadian waters — about 24,000 individuals. Beluga whales living in this part of the bay are considered resistant to external factors, despite the aggressive environment and human intervention in the life of toothed whales.

Migrating populations are counted simultaneously by representatives of different countries — Denmark, Norway, Russia, Canada and the UK. Their number at the starting point is very different from the finish. The figures reflect the loss of groups from predation and human activities.

A fairly large group of animals lives in zoos, oceanariums, national aquariums and dolphinariums. Scientists are at a loss as to how many individuals can be in captivity. According to some estimates, it can be from 100 or more animals only in Russia, and about 250 individuals in other countries of the world.

Protection of Beluga Whales

Photo: White whale Red Book

Photo: White whale Red Book

The white toothed whale is listed in the Red Book as an endangered species. The list of threats includes industrial fishing, external factors and human waste. The indigenous people of the Arctic in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia hunt beluga whales. The number of animals killed is about 1000 per year. In Alaska, from 300 to 400 killed, in Canada from 300 to 400. Until 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the beluga whale as «vulnerable» In 2008, the IUCN classified it as «imminently threatened» due to a decrease in numbers in some parts of the range.

Beluga whales, like most other Arctic species, are facing habitat change due to climate change and melting Arctic ice. It is still not entirely clear why belugas use the ice, but it is assumed that this is a hiding place from predatory killer whales. Changes in the density of Arctic ice have caused massive losses among individuals. Sudden weather changes can cause the ice cracks that whales use to access oxygen to freeze, eventually causing the whales to die from suffocation.

The US Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the pursuit and hunting of all marine mammals in US coastal waters. The law has been repeatedly amended to allow indigenous peoples to hunt for food, temporarily capturing a limited number for research, education, and public display. Commercial whaling has put whales at risk of extinction in areas such as Cook Inlet, Ungava Bay, the St. Lawrence River and western Greenland. Continued whaling by indigenous peoples may mean that some populations will continue to decline

Belugas — a unique animal that has gone through a complex chain of evolution. Scientists managed to find out that the ancestors of the modern white whale once lived in warm seas, and before that on the surface of the earth. This fact is proved by fossils found in northern California, as well as the bones of a prehistoric animal found in Vermont, USA. The remains rested at a depth of 3 meters underground and away from the nearest ocean at a distance of 250 km. DNA analysis gave a match with the code of the modern beluga whale. This proves that her ancestors came from the ocean, and then returned to the aquatic habitat.

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