|Common Name||White whale, Melonhead, beluga, canary|
|Species||• D. leucas|
|Conservation Status |
The scientific order Cetacea includes all whales. This large order is further divided into three suborders: the toothed whales, or Odontoceti (beluga whales, killer whales, dolphins, and porpoises), the baleen whales, or Mysticeti (fin whales, gray whales, and right whales), and the Archaeoceti (fossil whales, now extinct).
The genus name, Delphinapterus, means "dolphin without a fin." The species name,leucas, means "white." The common name beluga is derived from the Russian word belukha, which means "white" (Leatherwood and Reeves, 1983).
Other common names for the beluga include "white whale" and "belukha." They are also nicknamed "sea canaries" because of their vocalizations.
Scientists believe that early whales arose 55 to 60 million years ago from (now extinct) ancient land mammals that ventured back into the sea.
Representatives from the modern family Monodontidae first appear in the fossil record 9 to 10 million years ago in the eastern North Pacific (Barnes, 1977). [1 ]
The beluga or white whale, Delphinapterus leucas, is an Arctic and sub-Arctic cetacean. It is one of two members of the family Monodontidae, along with the narwhal, and the only member of the genus Delphinapterus.
Belugas are gregarious and they form groups of up to 10 animals on average, although during the summer months, they can gather in the hundreds or even thousands in estuaries and shallow coastal areas.
They are slow swimmers, but they can dive down to 700 m (2,300 ft) below the surface. They are opportunistic feeders and their diets vary according to their locations and the season. They mainly eat fish, crustaceans and other deep-sea invertebrates.
The majority of belugas live in the arctic and the seas and coasts around North America, Russia and Greenland; their worldwide population is thought to number around 150,000 individuals. They are migratory, the majority of the groups spend the winter around the arctic ice cap, but when the sea ice melts in summer, they move to warmer river estuaries and coastal areas. Some populations are sedentary and do not migrate over great distances during the year.
The native peoples of North America and Russia have hunted belugas for many centuries. They were also hunted commercially during the 19th century and part of the 20th century. Whale hunting has been under international control since 1973. Currently, only certain Eskimo groups are allowed to carry out subsistence hunting of belugas. Other threats include natural predators (polar bears and killer whales), contamination of rivers, and infectious diseases.
From a conservation perspective, the beluga was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List in 2008 as being "near threatened"; however, the sub population from the Cook Inlet in Alaska is considered Critically Endangered and is under the protection of the United States' Endangered Species Act. Of seven Canadian beluga populations, the two inhabiting eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay are listed as endangered.
Belugas are one of the cetaceans most commonly kept in captivity in aquaria and wildlife parks in North America, Europe and Asia; they are popular with the public due to their colour and expressivity.
They are kept in the Georgia Aquarium where they are enjoyed by the public and tourists across America, and with an extra fee people can get up close and personal with the Whales there.
|Marine||Marine Habitats • Aquariums • Global Oceans • Ocean Weather
|Vertebrate||Fishes • Mammals • Reptiles • Amphibians • Cartilaginous Fishes • Sharks
|Invertebrate||Arthropod • Mollusca • Echinoderms • Cnidaria
|Conservation Status||Critically Endangered • Endangered • Near Threatened • Vulnerable • Least Concern • Data Deficient • Not Evaluated|