The beluga, or white whale, is one of the smallest species of whale. Their distinctive color and prominent foreheads make them easily identifiable.
The beluga, or white whale, is one of the smallest species of whale. Their distinctive color and prominent foreheads make them easily identifiable.
Photograph by Nansen Weber, Nat Geo Image Collection

Beluga Whale

Common Name:
Beluga Whale
Scientific Name:
Delphinapterus leucas
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Carnivore
Group Name:
Pod
Average Life Span In The Wild:
35 to 50 years
Size:
13 to 20 feet
Weight:
1 to 1.5 tons
IUCN Red List Status:
Near threatened
Current Population Trend:
Unknown

Belugas are also called white whales, and their unusual color makes them one of the most familiar and easily distinguishable of all the whales. Calves are born gray or even brown and only fade to white as they become sexually mature around five years of age.

White whales are smallish, ranging from 13 to 20 feet in length. They have rounded foreheads and no dorsal fin.

Social Behavior

Belugas generally live together in small groups known as pods. They are social animals and very vocal communicators that employ a diversified language of clicks, whistles, and clangs. Belugas can also mimic a variety of other sounds.

Population Range and Migration

These whales are common in the Arctic Ocean's coastal waters, though they are found in subarctic waters as well. Arctic belugas migrate southward in large herds when the sea freezes over. Animals trapped by Arctic ice often die, and they are prey for polar bears, killer whales, and for Arctic people. They are hunted by indigenous people of the north, and by commercial fisheries that brought some populations, such as those in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to near collapse.

Beluga feed on fish, crustaceans, and worms. The whale is related to the tusked “unicorn” whale known as the narwhal. The beluga is not related to the sturgeon of the same name, which has been heavily fished for its famous caviar.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by Jen Hatcher, National Geographic Your Shot

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