Project Description

Beluga Whale: Photo by Jofre Ferrer on Flickr.

Called “canaries of the sea” these Arctic odontocetes have a very cheery and colorful sounding social vocalization repertoire. Second to the bottlenose dolphin, Belugas are probably the most anthropomorphized of the cetaceans (folks personally identify with them). This is likely due to the appearance of a “smile” on their mouth, and the fact that they have very flexible necks, so they can look around by shifting their heads like humans.

They also have a very plastic melon that can change shape to “mind-blowing” degrees. Given that the melon is associated with bio-sonar and hearing, this indicates a very complex relationship with sound.

General Information:

Latin Name:
Delphinapterus leucas
sea canary, white whale
5 m (16 ft)
Males weigh 1,100 – 1,600 kg (2,400 and 3,500 lb), occasionally up to 1,900 kg (4,200 lb) while females weigh 700 – 1,200 kg (1,500 and 2,600 lb)
Physical Traits:
forehead has a melon, dorsal ridge, adults are white colored, neck vertebrae aren’t fused so it can turn it’s head
highly social, large groups of males, smaller groups of females and young, can swim backwards
Beluga whales are entirely arctic and subarctic waters, in summer – bays, estuaries and inlets, in winter – near edge of icepack.
Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, the Beaufort Sea, Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence
Salmon, other fish
Orcas, Subsistence hunters

Au, W.W.L, Carder, D.A., Penner, R.H. and Scronce, B.L. 1985. Demonstration of adaptation in beluga whale echolocation signals. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 77(2): 726-730.Hoyt, E. The Whales of Canada. Camden House, 1984: 79-83.Karlsen, J.D., Bisther, A., Lydersen, C., Haug, T. and Kovacs, K.M. 2002. Summer vocalisations of adult male white whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Svalbard, Norway. Polar Biology 25(11): 808-817.

Katona, S.K., Rough V. and Richardson, D.T.. A Field Guide to the Whales, Porpoises and Seals of the Gulf of Maine and Eastern Canada. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1993.

Sjare, B.L. and T.G. Smith. 1986. The vocal repertoire of white whales, Delphinapterus leucas, summering in Cunningham Inlet, Northwest Territories. Canadian Journal of Zoology 64(2): 407-415.

Lesage, V., Barrette, C., Kingsley, M.C.S. and Sjare, B. 1999. The effect of vessel noise on the vocal behavior of belugas in the St. Lawrence River Estuary, Canada. Marine Mammal Science 15(1): 65-84.

Scheifele, P. M., Andrew, S., Cooper, R. A., Darre, M., Musiek, F. E. and Max, L. 2005. Indication of a Lombard vocal response in the St. Lawrence River beluga. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 117(3): 1486-1492.