Alaska Species Explorer

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Beluga

Common Name: Beluga
Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Distribution:

Beluga whales are circumpolar in distribution. Beluga whales inhabit the Arctic and subarctic regions of Russia, Greenland, and North America. Specifically, they inhabit the Arctic Ocean and its adjoining seas. In the U.S., there are 5 distinct stocks of beluga whales--all in Alaska: Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay, Eastern Bering Sea, Eastern Chukchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea.

Conservation Status:

Cook Inlet is the only endangered population. It is the most isolated stock; genetic samples suggest these whales have been isolated for several thousand years. The Cook Inlet stock has been severely reduced in numbers over the last several decades. NMFS estimates this population numbered as many as 1,300 in the late 1970s. The current estimate is about 325 beluga whales in the Cook Inlet.

Average Length: 12-14ft for both males and females
Average Weight: 3,000lbs
Diet in the Wild:

Opportunistic feeders, belugas eat octopus, squid, crabs, shrimp, clams, mussels, snails, sandworms, and fishes

Reproduction Period:

Mate in the spring, usually in March or April, in small bays and estuaries. Gestation lasts about 14-15 months, and calves are born between March and September, mostly between May and July. Females give birth to single calves (and on rare occasion twins) every two to three years on average.

Habitat:

Generally found in shallow coastal waters, often in water barely deep enough to cover their bodies, but have also been seen in deep waters. They seem well adapted to both a cold ocean habitat and a warmer freshwater habitat.  Belugas can be found swimming among icebergs and ice floes in the waters of the Arctic and subarctic, where water temperatures may be as low as 32° F (0° C). They can also be found in estuaries and river basins.

Threats in the Wild: Pollution, commercial development, legal subsistence, habitat destruction
Did you know?:
  • Belugas are known as the "canaries of the sea" because of the vast range of sounds they produce. 
  • Belugas are unique among cetaceans in that they shed their outer layer of skin, or molt, each summer around July.
  • ASLC scientists are assisting in various research projects on the Bristol Bay population.

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