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Beluga whales, also known as white whales, have white skin that is adapted to its habitat in the Arctic. The word “beluga” comes from the Russian word for “white.” The beluga is closely related to the narwhal, “the unicorns of the sea”. They are the only two members of the Monodontidae family.
See the fact file below for more information on the Beluga whales or alternatively, you can download our 26-page Beluga Whales worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Ancestors, Habitat, Anatomy and Life Cycle
- Common Name: Beluga Whale
- Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
- Type: Mammals
- Diet: Carnivores
- Group Name: Pod
- Average Size: 13 to 20 feet
- Average Lifespan in the Wild: 35 to 50 years
- Average Weight: 1 to 1.5 tons
- IUCN Red List Status: Nearly Threatened
- In 1776, Peter Simon Pallas first described beluga whales.
- The name beluga in Russian also refers to an unrelated species of fish known as beluga sturgeon.
- The word beluga comes from the Russian word “bielo”, which means white. However, these white whales are born dark gray. It can take up to eight years before they turn completely white.
- The beluga’s earliest ancestor is the prehistoric Denebola brachycephala from the late Miocene period, which was 9–10 million years ago.
- According to studies, a single fossil from the Baja California Peninsula indicates the family once inhabited warmer waters.
- According to National Geographic, beluga whales are among the smallest species of whale. Adult males range from 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6.1 meters) in length and weigh 2,000 to 3,000 lbs. (907 to 1,361 kilograms).
- Belugas’ necks are narrower than other whales. They have thick, muscular bodies, which taper at both ends. Their round heads have a small beak and, unlike other whales, the vertebrae of their neck are not fused.
- Belugas, like other arctic whales, do not have dorsal fins (a dorsal fin causes extra heat loss and would be a major hindrance in the Arctic ice), but they do have a tough dorsal ridge. They also have a thick layer of blubber that insulates them from the icy Arctic waters.
- The beluga has a very specialized sense of hearing and its auditory cortex is highly developed.
- Beluga whales are found solely in the Northern Hemisphere and inhabit the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean and the subarctic regions. They can be found in areas of Russia, Canada, Norway, Greenland and Alaska.
- Belugas can easily navigate shallow river mouths, entering estuaries (an area where fresh and saltwater meet) during molting seasons. They can also dive to depths of 2600 ft. However, they will typically follow the pack ice as it melts and freezes throughout the seasons.
- Belugas feed on a variety of fish species, such as salmon and herring, as well as shrimp, crabs, mollusks, marine worms and large zooplankton.
- The gathered lips of the beluga allow the animal to spit a stream of water to uncover and suction prey.
- The peg-like teeth of the beluga are used to capture prey, which they swallow whole, not to chewed.
- Studies suggest that a beluga’s life expectancy is rarely more than 30 years.
- A female beluga whale will become sexually mature around 5-7 years of age while a male is a little later at 8-9 years.
- Breeding occurs from April to May but may start as early as February and end as late as June in some regions.
- Females are pregnant for approximately 15-16 months, with most calving in late spring and early summer.
- The young beluga is nursed for 2 years and a female will give birth every 2-4 years.
- Belugas’ bulbous foreheads are called a “melon”, which is flexible and capable of changing shape, allowing them to make different facial expressions.
- Belugas are also called “the canary of the sea” because they can produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals that may sound like music. These sounds convey important information to other members of their pod.
- Belugas are able to swim backwards.
- They are highly sociable and gregarious, forming groups of up to 10 individuals on average. During the summer, they can gather in their hundreds or even thousands in estuaries and shallow coastal areas.
- They are cooperative animals and frequently hunt in coordinated groups. Belugas are very sociable and often chase each other, play with and rub up against each other.
Threats and Conservation Status
- The largest threat to beluga whale populations is the effects of human activity, which includes hunting, oil and gas development, climate change and industrial and urban pollution.
- The native populations of the Canadian, Alaskan and Russian Arctic regions hunt belugas for their meat, blubber and skin.
- Polar bears and killer whales are known predators of belugas throughout the Arctic.
- In some areas, chemical contaminants have increased bacterial infection, parasites, ulcers and cancer.
- In 2008, the beluga was listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they were reclassified as “nearly threatened” due to uncertainty about threats to their numbers.
- The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was formed by U.S. Congress outlawing the persecution and hunting of all marine mammals within U.S. coastal waters. The act has been amended a number of times to permit subsistence hunting by native people, temporary capture of restricted numbers for research, education and public display, and to decriminalise the accidental capture of individuals during fishing operations.
Beluga Whales Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about beluga whales across 26 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Beluga Whales worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Beluga whales, also known as white whales, which have white skin that is adapted to its habitat in the Arctic. The word “beluga” comes from the Russian word for “white.” The beluga is closely related to the narwhal, “the unicorns of the sea”. They are the only two members of the Monodontidae family.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Beluga Whale Facts
- Beluga Info Cards
- Beluga Appearance
- Beluga 101
- Word Finder
- Taxonomic Classification
- Beluga Quiz Club
- Canaries of the Sea
- Fact or Bluff
- White Whale Encounter
- The Survivor
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Link will appear as Beluga Whales Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, July 30, 2018
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.