The White Whale
Known as the “sea canary”, as the “white whale”, and sometimes referred to as the “melonhead”, beluga whales are extraordinarily remarkable creatures.
Beluga whales get their nickname of “sea canary” since they are the world’s most vocal whale, almost constantly making one sound or another. These whales have even been known to imitate human speech as well as many other animal sounds such as that of birds. In captivity, belugas are often kept with other marine mammals including dolphins, and they have been known to modify their vocalizations to converse with them, making these whales multilingual. However, beluga whales do not have vocal cords; instead, they push air through the nasal sacs near their blowhole resulting in different sounds that allow them to communicate and echolocate.
Like most whales, belugas set off a series of clicks and whistles to echolocate and hunt their food. They consume between 50 and 60 pounds of food daily, including salmon, crabs, and octopus. Although they do have teeth, they do not use them to chew; instead, these whales use their teeth to grasp and tear their food before swallowing it.
Not only do belugas use echolocation to find their food, but they also use this ability to find breathing holes in the ice after a dive. Beluga whales can dive to depths of up to 100 meters deep with dives lasting up to 25 minutes each. These whales aren’t just great divers, but they also have the amazing ability to swim backwards just as well as they can forwards!
Yet another unique characteristic about beluga whales is that they can turn their heads in all directions whereas most whales cannot. This is because their vertebrae aren’t fused together, allowing for additional movement.
The beluga whale was given its nickname, the “white whale” since they are the world’s only white cetacean. Nevertheless, they aren’t born white. After a 14 to 15-month gestation period, female belugas give birth to a single, dark grey colored calf. It can take up to 8 years for their pigmentation to become fully white.
At birth, a beluga whale’s weight varies from 110 and 130 pounds and measures between 4 to 6 feet. When fully grown however, they’ll weigh around 2,000 and 3,000 pounds with a length of 13 to 20 feet, making them one of the world’s smallest whales.
During their first 12 to 18 months, beluga calves depend on their mother’s milk for nutrition. After which, their teeth appear and they start to consume shrimp and small fishes, but they will continue nursing until they are 20 to 24 months old. Throughout this time, females with calves will often form their own pods separate from the males. With a lifespan of up to 50 years, female belugas mature at 4 to 7 years old while males mature at 7 to 9 years old.
Like many other whales, belugas live and travel in pods, with some made up of over 100 members. Although they live mostly in the arctic waters, with over 150,000 individuals in Canada, some beluga whales have been spotted swimming in the St Lawrence River.
As you can see, beluga whales are fascinating and impressive creatures, being both incredible swimmers and extremely vocal animals!
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