Beluga whales are charismatic and easily recognizable marine mammals. With bright white skin, bulbous heads and elongated bodies, you can easily distinguish this species from other whales and dolphins. These creatures live in frigid polar regions in the Northern Hemisphere and have numerous adaptations and characteristics that help them survive that harsh environment.
Beluga Whale Facts for Kids: Basic Info
On average, adult beluga whales measure between 11 and 15 feet in length. These large marine mammals can weigh up to 3,600 pounds, but average weights range from 1,100 pounds to 2,500 pounds. Males usually reach larger sizes than females, and most females do not measure longer than 12 feet in length.
You can find these marine mammals in the frigid Arctic and sub-Arctic waters of the Northern Hemisphere. Often surrounded by pack ice and snowy habitats, their white coloration helps these creatures blend in and hide from their predators – polar bears, humans and killer whales.
Baby Beluga Whale Facts for Kids
A baby beluga is also known as a calf. Unlike their white-colored parents, calves have gray or light-brown coloration. This gray color fades to white as the whale grows. At birth, calves measure between four and a half and five feet long. Females give birth in the summer, moving into shallow, warmer waters to bear their young. The calves nurse from their mothers until they are between one and two years of age.
The Canary of the Sea
Some refer to belugas as 'the canary of the sea' due to their many different types of vocalizations. In fact, these creatures can produce the most varied sounds of all marine mammals! Some of the different sounds they make include:
As odd as it may sound, part of the reason beluga whales can make such a range of sounds is because of their unique forehead! The bulbous forehead, also known as a melon, doesn't contain their brain. Instead, their melon is made up of fat, and they can change its shape to help distort and direct the sounds they produce.
Beluga whales and all dolphins use their melon to aid in echolocation. During echolocation, these marine mammals direct clicks and other sounds using their melon and listen for the echo to 'see' the world around them. They combine this skill with their eyesight to better navigate through their watery world. Bats use the exact same process to hunt for insects on land. This is also similar to the process humans use for sonar!
The Beluga 'Whale' Is Actually a Dolphin!
Did you know that the beluga whale isn't a true whale? Researchers place belugas into the suborder Odontoceti – also known as the toothed whales. They divide toothed whales into two primary groups: dolphins and porpoises. Other members of Odontoceti include bottlenose dolphins, killer whales and narwhals.
When you picture a dolphin, you likely picture an animal with a curved dorsal fin on its back. However, beluga whales do not have a dorsal fin. Instead, these creatures have a slightly raised dorsal ridge. A raised dorsal fin could potentially become caught or injured while swimming under the ice, which is why researchers believe these marine mammals lack that feature.
Cold Water Cousins
While related to other dolphins, the closest relative of the beluga whale is another cold-water resident – the narwhal! Researchers classify both belugas and narwhals into the same taxonomic family, Monodontidae. These two species are the only members of this family.
Both narwhals and belugas lack dorsal fins and have distinctively large melons. These creatures also live in large groups known as pods (which sometimes contain up to 100 individuals) and produce numerous vocalizations to communicate with their pod members.
About the Author
Marina Somma is a freelance writer and animal trainer. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology & Policy from Monmouth University. Marina has worked with a number of publications involving animal science, behavior and training, including animals.net, SmallDogsAcademy and more.