Beluga whales are instantly recognizable by their bright white skin and melon-shaped heads. Adults measure about 5 m in length and can weigh up to 1,600 kg (3,528 lbs). That might seem huge to you, but compared to the blue whale (which is the world’s largest whale, weighing up to 181,000 kg), it’s easy to see that belugas are on the smaller side! Despite their size they still carry around a large amount of blubber on their bodies to keep warm in the chilly Arctic waters where they live. This blubber may account for up to 40% of the belugas’ total body mass!
La la la la la laaaa….
Like most whales and dolphins, belugas use sound to communicate with other members of their group, to explore their surroundings, and to find food. These whales are particularly talented vocalists, capable of making a wide number of sounds and calls, earning them the nickname “canaries of the sea”. The secret lies in the bump on their foreheads. Inside the bump is a special structure called a “melon” which helps to direct sound waves. These sound waves bounce off objects in the water and get sent back to the beluga as echoes, which help them find things in their environment. Echolocation comes in very handy when the belugas are hunting for fish or invertebrates like crabs in very deep or murky water, and for finding breathing holes in ice sheets or detecting predators.
They need our help!
These cold-adapted creatures are facing a new problem. Warming waters due to climate change are affecting not only their habitats, but also their ability to find food. Fish like the Arctic char have a hard time surviving as temperatures rise in their usually chilly aquatic homes, and without the ability to find enough food, the beluga is in big trouble.
When you adopt a beluga whale, you’ll be helping University of New Brunswick researcher Matthew Gilbert learn more about how belugas might be affected as their fish feast changes thanks to climate change. He’s working on a project that will test how warmer water temperatures affect Arctic char, looking to answer important questions about how their movements might be affected, or if they’ll be able to survive. Once we know more about how the beluga buffet could change as waters continue to warm, we’ll know more about how to protect these wonderful white whales for years to come!