Beluga is a fish that lives in fresh waters. She is a member of the sturgeon family and is highly valued in the fish industry. The caviar of this type of fish is the most expensive of all presented on the world market. Recently, the beluga population has been rapidly declining, and therefore scientists are striving to learn how to breed fish in artificial conditions. It is noteworthy that the name of the fish in Latin means “pig”. This name fully corresponds to the fish, characterizing its lifestyle, appearance, behavior and feeding habits.
Origin of the species and description
Beluga belongs to chordates, it is allocated to the class of ray-finned fish, the order of sturgeons. The fish belongs to the sturgeon family, genus and species of beluga. It is the beluga that is the largest freshwater fish of all that exists on earth. The history describes cases when really very large individuals were caught by people. Some sources contain information that individual individuals weighing up to two tons were caught.
However, this information is not confirmed by any facts. In the process of evolution and population decline, the fish has significantly decreased in size. The largest individuals of this species were caught in 1700 and in 1989. Their body weight was 800 and 970 kilograms, respectively.
The sturgeon family, in addition to the beluga, includes the following fish: stellate sturgeon, sturgeon, sterlet. Representatives of this family appeared presumably during the Eocene period, which is approximately 85-70 million years ago. This is evidenced by the discovered archaeological finds. Scientists suggest that the most ancient representatives of this family inhabited our planet about 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth.
Surprisingly, fish have survived to this day without undergoing any external changes. Their body, as before, is covered with bone plates, which were necessary in order to survive in the conditions of that time.
Appearance and features
Fish are among the largest marine life. Sexual dimorphism in the beluga is practically not observed, male and female individuals do not have significant visual differences between themselves. The mass of her body can reach a ton, and the length is about four meters. There are witnesses who claim that they were eyewitnesses of the fact that fish were caught even six to seven meters long. Beluga is the owner of a large, massive, stocky body.
The head part of the body outwardly really has some similarities with the pig. The nose is somewhat blunt, reminiscent of a pig's snout. The sickle-shaped mouth is very wide, framed by massive lips. The beluga has no teeth, except for fry. As they grow and become adults, they disappear. In the region of the upper lip there are antennae that hang down, reaching the lower lip. Beluga eyes are small. Vision is poorly developed, so the main guideline is a very acute sense of smell. The body of the fish is covered with dense, hard diamond-shaped scales that do not overlap. The body is painted in two shades: the back is gray with a brownish tinge, the belly area is lighter, almost white or milky in color. The back area is covered with small spikes. Zoologists say that this type of fish is long-lived. Due to their size, especially large individuals live for about a hundred years.
Where does the beluga live?
The beluga fish lives exclusively in fresh water.
The habitats of the beluga in vivo:
- Black Sea;
- Caspian Sea;
- Sea of Azov;
- Adriatic Sea.
During the spawning period, fish gather in the mouths of the rivers. The most numerous populations during this period gather in the Volga, Danube, Don, Dnieper, Dniester, Ural, Kura, Terek. Most of these representatives of marine flora and fauna live in the Caspian Sea. During the spawning period, the largest number of fish gather on the Volga River. Fish can be found on any river near the Caspian Sea. Previously, it was common for fish to climb thousands of kilometers up large rivers. To date, the habitat of these predators is limited due to the construction of numerous hydroelectric power stations.
Previously, beluga populations were widespread off the coast of Azerbaijan, Iran, Serbia, Romania, and other countries. A fish elevator was even built for it on the territory of the Volgograd hydroelectric complex. However, due to poor quality work, it was no longer used, and fish ceased to be found in the Volga River in such large quantities as before. A predator of such a large size can provide itself with food only in the expanses of the seas. The regions in which it lives are considered environmentally friendly, since the beluga is found exclusively in such places.
Interesting fact: If for some reason the region where the fish lives is polluted, then the individual the female refuses to spawn, and the eggs formed in her body simply dissolve.
It is unusual for Belugas to lead a sedentary, passive lifestyle. Despite its impressive size, it constantly changes its habitat, likes to sink to an impressive depth in places with a strong current. It is in such places that she finds a sufficient amount of food. For rest, he chooses recesses at the bottom. With the onset of spring, when the upper layers of the water have warmed up enough, the beluga can be seen in such waters, or at a shallow depth.
Now you know where the beluga is found. Let's see what this fish eats?
What does a beluga eat?
Beluga is a predatory marine life. Hunt and get their own food begins very early. The main food source is fish of various species. Since beluga are rather large predators, their diet is very diverse.
In addition to fish of different species, they can eat crustaceans, molluscs, their relatives, which have not yet reached large sizes. In some cases, they can eat baby seals, waterfowl. Only beluga fry born into the world feed on marine plankton, caviar of various fish species, and larvae. As the beluga grows, the diet of the beluga changes. After migration to the open sea, at first, young individuals feed on crustaceans and molluscs. Among the young, cannibalism is very common.
As they grow older, they gradually switch to a fish diet. In adults, fish makes up about 95-97% of the total diet. In search of food, they can sometimes migrate very long distances. Depending on weather conditions, climate, and the spawning period, the diet of predators is slightly adjusted.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
With their rather large dimensions, the fish are mobile, prone to migration over long distances. The main habitat is the sea, however, during the spawning period, beluga go to the mouths of large rivers.
According to the form and type of migration, beluga are divided into two categories:
- spring. Migration of fish to the rivers is carried out in the first half of spring.
- winter. The influx of fish to the Volga is observed in the autumn.
Winter fish predominate in quantity, which actually hibernates in depressions at the bottom, and with the onset of spring immediately begins to spawn. After the end of spawning, the predator returns to its natural habitat – to the sea. He orients himself in space, relying on a very sharply developed sense of smell. When living in the sea, the beluga leads an isolated, solitary lifestyle. During migration to the rivers, it gathers in numerous groups.
With the onset of cold weather, the beluga descends to a depth and lies on deep-sea pits at the bottom. Plunging into hibernation, she waits out the cold. With the onset of heat and spring, the fish wake up and spawning begins. During this period, some individuals tend to change their habitual behavior, lifestyle and diet. However, with the end of the breeding season, they return to their usual way of life.
Social structure and reproduction
The fish is pretty Late puberty occurs. Females are ready to breed at the age of 15-17 years, and males at the age of 12-14 years. However, females do not give offspring until they gain the desired body weight. This happens most often not earlier than 25 years. Breaks between spawning are from two to four years.
Throughout her life, each female spawns about 8-9 times. She spawns most often on a sandy bottom, or pebble. When the eggs are fertilized, they become sticky and stick to the seabed. For favorable spawning, eggs must be laid where there is a fast flow and constant access to oxygen.
Interesting fact: At one time, a sexually mature female is able to lay about a million eggs, and the total mass of eggs laid is almost a quarter of her body weight.
The spawning period falls at the beginning of spring, when beluga whales wake up after hibernation. Their fertilization is external. The survival rate is low, since most of the eggs become food for other marine life, and newborn fry are often eaten by predators. The fry formed from the eggs are 5-7 centimeters in size. At first, they live in shallow water, or in surface waters warmed by the sun's rays, then they swim in search of the sea. The fry grow and develop quite quickly, and by the year they reach about a meter in length.
Natural enemies of the beluga
Due to its size and predatory lifestyle, the beluga has practically no enemies in its natural habitat. No marine predator ever hunts her. The exception is fry and caviar, which becomes a food source for many marine life. It is noteworthy that the beluga is one of its main enemies. This is due to the fact that cannibalism is very common among this breed of predators. They eat their own relatives and caviar, moreover, in fairly large quantities.
One of the main enemies and practically the only enemies of the marine predator is man. Previously, in many regions, in particular on the Volga, during the spawning period, 1.5-2 thousand tons of this valuable fish were caught. In many regions, today it is bred for industrial sale, since caviar is considered a very expensive and elite delicacy. It has excellent taste.
Its calorie content is higher than the calorie content of the fish meat itself. Beluga caviar is very rich in natural protein, which helps to maintain youthful skin. However, breeding it is not always successful and in large quantities. In this regard, poaching is very common in many regions, especially during the spawning season, when fish gather in large numbers in estuaries.
Population and species status
Today, the fish population is constantly declining. The rapid decline in numbers occurred at the very beginning of the 21st century. Belugas were given the status of an endangered species, with which they were listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation and the international Red Book. The zoologist notes that due to the constantly declining number in natural conditions, predators often interbreed with representatives of other species of marine life.
In 1952, under artificial conditions, scientists managed to breed a hybrid, which was obtained by crossing a hybrid and a sterlet and named bester. This type of fish was bred exclusively for keeping fish in artificial reservoirs. However, the quality of Bester caviar is significantly inferior in quality to caviar of purebred predators.
Belugas were on the verge of extinction due to the late achievement of puberty. In many regions where fish have been used to breeding for centuries, hydroelectric power stations have been built, the waters are polluted with various types of industrial waste, as a result of which spawning has stopped. This species of predators has such a feature, which lies in the fact that after the end of spawning, a large number of females die. This also has a negative impact on the population.
Protection of the beluga
Fishing of a predator in the regions of its natural habitat is strictly prohibited. For violation of this rule, poachers face a real prison term. This law is valid on the territory of all states where the beluga lives. The punishment in different countries is different: from fines on especially large scales and confiscation of property to imprisonment for a period of five years.
In order to preserve this amazing predator and increase its numbers, nurseries are organized in many regions, in who are trying to keep and breed beluga. However, such measures do not always give the desired result.
Also, in the regions of the natural habitat of the beluga, it is forbidden to pollute water with household and industrial waste, since pollution of the habitats of predators leads to the cessation of reproduction, limitation of habitat and population reduction. During the spawning period, the places of accumulation of beluga are protected by fisheries. The fish is listed in the Red Book. Today, fishing on any scale is impossible, and therefore it remains the dream of many amateur fishermen who do not lose hope one day by chance to catch it.
The beluga is an amazing fish, which is a rarity in our time . It has large light gray caviar, which is unlike any other caviar in terms of taste.