Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale

Beluga whale classification
The scientific name for the Beluga whale is Delphinapterus leucas. It is a marine mammal belonging to the genus Delphinapterus in the family Monodontidae. Its closest living relative is the Narwhal (Monodon monoceros). Earlier, the Irrawaddy dolphine (Orcaella brevirostris) was also considered a part of the family Monodontidae, but new genetic research indicate that this was not a correct assumption.The Beluga whale was first described in 1776 by Peter Simon Pallas, a German zoologist who worked in Russia.

The Beluga whale should not be confused with the fish species named Beluga (Huso huso). The Beluga fish is a sturgeon famous for its precious roe; the much sought after Beluga caviar. It lives primarily in the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, and is sometimes also found in the Adriatic Sea. 

Beluga whale range and habitat
Beluga whales are only found in the northern hemisphere and they usually stay in the Arctic Ocean and a few of its adjoining seas in arctic and subarctic environments. There is however a small Beluga whale population in the Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada. Beluga whales spend the summer season in shallow coastal waters. During the winter, they are typically found near the ice edge.

Beluga whale behaviour
Female Beluga whales and their calves will often form groups consisting of 2-15 animals. Male Beluga whales can form much larger groups; sometimes consisting of over 500 individuals. Really large Beluga whale groups consisting of thousands of animals have also been spotted.

Beluga whales are social and playful. They tend to be especially good-humoured when they have reached their summer habitats in shallow waters, and will typically engage in flipper-slapping and lobtailing. Playful Beluga whales are also quite noisy.

Beluga whale reproduction
The female Beluga whale will give birth no more frequently than every 2-3 years, and typically only give birth to one young per birth. This makes the Beluga whale vulnerable to over-hunting. After a gestation period of approximately 15 months, a young Beluga whale that already weighs around 70 kilograms is born in spring. It will not be weaned until it has reached an age of 1.5-2 years. The estimated Beluga whale longevity is around 35-40 years.

A newborn Beluga whale is dark brown, dark grey or black. As the offspring grows older, the colouration will change. Between the age of one and two years, the colouration will reach a stage where the whale becomes bluish. Mature Beluga whales are white. Before the summer molt, the Beluga whale can look quite yellow.

The female Beluga whales will usually become sexually mature at age of five, while the males do not become sexually mature until they are at least eight years old. We still know very little about the actual mating process. Mating is known to take place during the winter season or in early spring. The Beluga whales can mate in their winter habitats or during the spring migration. There are however numerous reports about mating taking place during other seasons as well, so the Beluga whales might be capable of delayed implantation.

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