Beluga whale head

Scientific Classification

Class – Mammalia

Mammals are characterized by the following features:

  • Mammals breathe air with lungs.
  • Mammals are "warm-blooded": they maintain a constant, high body temperature independent of their surroundings.
  • As a rule, mammals bear live young. (Two primitive mammals are exceptions to this rule: the duck-billed platypus and the spiny anteater both lay eggs.)
  • Mammals nurse their young with milk.
  • Mammals have hair, at least at some stage in their development. Many baleen whales have sparse hairs on the snout, jaws, and chin.

Order – Cetacea

  • Cetacea is a scientific order of large aquatic mammals that have forelimbs modified into flippers, a horizontally flattened tail, a nostril at the top of the head for breathing, and no hind limbs. Cetaceans include all whales, dolphins and porpoises.
  • The word "cetacean" is derived from the Greek word for whale, kētos.
  • Living cetaceans are further divided into two suborders: the Odontoceti (toothed whales) and the Mysticeti (baleen whales).

Suborder –  Odontoceti

Odontoceti is a scientific suborder of whales that have teeth. The word "odontocete" comes from the Greek word for tooth, odontos.

Family – Monodontidae

The only other member of this whale family is the narwhal, another arctic species.

Family characteristics

  • No dorsal fin.
  • Small, broad pectoral flippers.
  • Small, but distinct beaks.
  • The seven neck vertebrae are not fused as they are in other whales.

Genus, Species - Delphinapterus leucas

The genus name Delphinapterus, means "dolphin without a fin." The species name leucas, means "white."

Beluga whale emerging from the water, showing white coloration and lack of dorsal fin.

The scientific name for the beluga literally means "white dolphin without a fin."

Other common names for the beluga include "white whale" and "belukha." They are also nicknamed "sea canaries" because of their vocalizations.

Fossil Record

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.