Easily recognized by their bright white color and bulb-shaped forehead, beluga whales are among the smallest whale species. The whales can still reach between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds and 13 to 20 feet long. That sounds big, but pales in comparison to orcas that are 23 to 31 feet long and blue whales that can grow to more than 90 feet long. The wealth of fun facts about beluga whales makes them a worthwhile animal for elementary children to study.
Adult beluga whales are a distinctive white color, and are often called white whales, but that's not true for the baby belugas. When beluga whales are born, they're actually gray or brown. As beluga whales get older, their color changes to white. This change usually happens by the time the whale turns 5 years old, but it can take as long as eight years. Belugas are about 5 feet long when they're born, which is the size of some full-grown adult humans. Baby belugas are born knowing how to swim, but stay with their moms for two years.
Beluga whales make their homes in the cold waters of the Arctic, but they can live in warmer waters, as well. In the fall, beluga whales move south because their home waters freeze. They move back north when spring arrives. Getting trapped by sea ice is a threat to beluga whales. If it happens, the whales cannot breathe and they become attractive food to predators such as polar bears.
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Beluga whales like to talk, and are nicknamed "sea canaries" because they are among the most vocal of all whales, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They speak to each other with clicks, whistles and clangs, but they can also imitate other sounds they hear. Beluga whales spend their days in groups called pods, which can reach numbers of up to 10,000 whales. The pods of beluga whales eat worms, fish and crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters.
Aside from being white, belugas have additional characteristics that make them different from other whales. For example, beluga whales can change the shape of their heads by blowing air around their sinuses, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The vertebrae of a beluga whale are not fused, which means the animals can turn their heads up, down and side-to-side. The whales can also swim backward. Every summer, beluga whales molt, which means they lose their top layer of skin. This outer layer turns a yellowish color in the winter. When summer comes, they scrape their skin along the bottom of the sea to remove it.