Beluga Whale Beluga Whale
Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale

Scientific Classification

Common Name
beluga whale, white whale, sea canary
Cetaceaor more recently Cetartiodactyla
Genus Species
Delphinapterus leucas

Fast Facts

In general, adult belugas are almost completely white, while young belugas are gray. The head region is rounded with a prominent melon and a short broad beak. One highly noticeable trait is the lack of a dorsal fin; instead belugas have a narrow dorsal ridge. The pectoral flippers of belugas are broad and the flukes become strongly convex on the trailing edge in mature whales.
Male: In general, male belugas tend to be larger than females.
Newborn beluga calves are up to 1.6 m (5 ft.) in length
Male: 3.4 to 4.6 m (11.2 to 15.1 ft.)
Female: 3 to 4 m (9.8 to 13.1 ft.)
At birth, calves are approximately 54 to 80 kg (119 to 176.4 lbs.)
Male: Up to 1500 kg (3,307 lbs.)
Female: Up to 1360 kg (3,000 lbs.)
Benthic (bottom-dwelling) fish such as capelin, cod, herring, smelt and flounder and invertebrates including clams, snails, sandworms, crabs, shrimp, octopus and squid
Pregnancy lasts 14 months
Estral Period:
Late winter, spring
Nursing Duration:
Usually 20 to 24 months (wean)
Sexual Maturity
Male: At about 8 to 9 years
Female: At about 4 to 7 years
Life Span
30 to 35 years
Arctic Ocean and subarctic seas. Recent detailed mapping confirms that belugas are widely distributed in Arctic regions, occurring throughout the northern waters of Russia, Alaska, Canada, West Greenland, and Svalbard.
Typically, they inhabit shallow coastal waters of the icy Arctic Ocean and its adjoining seas, but during the summer many populations may also congregate in warmer freshwater estuaries and river basins
Global:  around 200,000. There are 21 distinct or demographically separated subpopulations.
IUCN: Least Concern; Belugas in the Cook Inlet have been assessed by IUCN as a separate subpopulation and are classified on the Red List as Critically Endangered
CITES: Appendix II
USFWS: Cook inlet population listed as endangered by NOAA Fisheries

Fun Facts

  1. The English name "beluga" comes from the Russian word belukha, which translates into "white." Belugas are also known as white whales. At birth, beluga calves are generally dark gray. They gradually lighten with age, and upon reaching maturity, attain the white coloration characteristic of adult belugas. This white coloration protects belugas from predators by camouflaging them among the icebergs and ice floes of northern seas.
  2. A highly social species, beluga whales are extremely vocal. Long ago, scientists and sailors gave beluga whales the nickname "sea canaries," due to the birdlike sounds these whales make.
  3. Beluga whales lack dorsal fins, but have a low dorsal ridge. The lack of a dorsal fin means less surface area for losing heat to the environment. And without a dorsal fin, a beluga can more easily swim beneath extensive ice sheets and locate breathing holes.
  4. Belugas are among the few whales that have unfused cervical neck vertebrae. This feature makes their necks quite flexible and gives their heads a wide range of motion.
  5. Belugas can swim both forward and, unlike most other whales, backward.
  6. For more information about belugas, explore the Beluga Whale Info Book.

Ecology and Conservation

Beluga whales face a number of environmental threats. Industrial run-off in the St. Lawrence River has resulted in high levels of PCBs, heavy metals, and other toxins in the water. The toxins enter the food chain through single-celled organisms and become concentrated in the bodies of large carnivores. The deaths and strandings of many belugas are possibly linked to these toxins. As with other marine mammals, belugas are protected by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.


Byrum, J. Beluga Whales. SeaWorld Education Department Publication. San Diego. SeaWorld, Inc. 1995.

Jefferson, T.J. Leatherwood, S. and M.A. Webber. FAO Species identification Guide. Marine Mammals of the World. Rome. FAO, 1993.

Leatherwood, Stephen, and Reeves, Randall R. The Sierra Club Handbook of Whales and Dolphins. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1983.

Nowak, Ronald M. (ed.). Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol. II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Parker, S. (ed.). Grizmek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. IV. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1990.

Reeves, R. R., Stewart, B.S., Clapman, P.J., and J.A. Powell (Peter Folkens illustrator). National Audubon Society: Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. New York: Random House, 2002.

Lowry, L., Reeves, R. & Laidre, K. 2017. Delphinapterus leucas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T6335A50352346. Downloaded on 21 September 2018.

NOAA Fisheries Downloaded September 21 2018.