Female beluga whale and calf

Birth & Care of Young

Discover how the vocal, social beluga whale survives in the cold arctic environment.

Calving and Birth

Gestation is about 14 to 15 months.

Calves are born March through September, depending on the region. Most are born May through July.

A female may give birth to a single calf every two to three years. Twins are rare.

Calves are born in bays and estuaries, where the water is relatively warm: about 10° to 15° C (50° to 60° F).

Deliveries can either be tail first or head first.

The umbilical cord snaps during or soon after delivery. 

Calf at Birth

Observers of wild beluga populations have estimated that beluga calves average 1.6 m (5.2 ft.) and weigh about 80 kg (176 lbs.). Beluga whale calves have been born and successfully raised at SeaWorld parks. The average size of SeaWorld-born beluga calves is 1.5 m (5 ft.) and 54 to 64 kg (119-140 lbs.).

At birth beluga calves are generally dark gray to bluish or brownish gray, becoming darker at about one month.

a newborn calf and mother beluga, demonstrating the darker coloration of the calf

At birth, calves are noticeably darker in color than their mothers.

Like other whales, beluga calves swim at birth.

Young belugas learn survival behaviors by observing and mimicking adults in their pod.

Care of Young

Nursing

Like other mammals, a mother beluga whale nurses her calf. A calf suckles below the water from nipples concealed in abdominal mammary slits.

The calf may begin nursing several hours after birth and then nurses at hourly intervals thereafter.

According to research in zoological parks, the composition of beluga milk varies widely among individuals and fluctuates throughout the nursing period. Beluga milk may average 28% milkfat, 11% protein, and 60.25% water. The milk yields approximately 92 calories per ounce.

Beluga calves are dependent upon nursing for the first year, until their teeth emerge. They then supplement their diets with shrimps and small fishes. Most calves nurse for 20 to 24 months.

Mothers with calves often form pods separate from males.

beluga mother with calf adjacent

Several mothers with their calves will often form pods separate from males.

While most maternal behavior is probably instinctive, first-time mothers are inexperienced at nursing their calves. At SeaWorld, the experience level of some first-time mothers increased through training procedures that teach them to respond to nursing behavior prior to giving birth.