Beluga Whale (Eastern Hudson Bay)

Delphinapterus leucas

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

With its pure white skin and prominent and bulging forehead, the beluga whale is easy to spot. Beluga actually means ‘the white one’ in Russian. However, only adult belugas are white; calves are born brown or dark grey and gradually pale to become totally white at between six and eight years of age.

Beluga whales have stout bodies, well-defined necks and a disproportionately small head. They have thick skins, short but broad paddle-shaped flippers, and sharp teeth. Unlike other whales, the beluga doesn’t have a dorsal fin. Belugas average 3 to 5 metres in length and weigh between 500 and 1,500 kilograms. Male whales have a marked upward curve at the top of their flippers.

Habitat

The beluga whale lives in cold arctic waters, traveling from habitat to habitat. Its movements are driven by the need for ice-free water and sufficient quantities of food to eat. In winter, the whale is found in leads and polynyas—areas of open water; in summer it frequents shallow bays and estuaries.

Female belugas with young prefer calm, shallow waters along reef edges, close to large islands, and in large bays. These waters have warm surface temperatures and sand, gravel or mud floors that support the molluscs, crustacea and bottom fish eaten by belugas. Adults and weaned young belugas favour areas where the water depth varies and where surface temperatures are cold.

Threats

Hunting is certainly the main cause of the dramatic declines in beluga populations. However, contributing factors could include alterations to habitats—such as damming of rivers—and possibly noise pollution caused by ships and pleasure craft. The boats might interfere with the belugas’ echo-location method of hunting.

As well, dredging, shipping, industrial activity and environmental pollution have degraded the quality of the water in which the beluga lives. This could also lead to a decline in food supply.

What Can You Do

Beluga whales will get the protection they need only if all Canadians work together to reduce threats. Find out more about beluga whales and be aware of man-made threats. Do your best to reduce these threats wherever possible to better protect the whales’ critical habitat. Get involved with the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP) or another conservation organization.

© Shutterstock

© Shutterstock

Photo of a Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

© W. Klenner

Further Information

The eastern Hudson Bay population of beluga whale is designated as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and is under consideration for addition to the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The whale is also protected under a number of other Acts, regulations and agreements.

A recovery strategy that covers the beluga populations of eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay is being developed by the Ungava Bay and eastern Hudson Bay recovery team. Projects initiated to date include population studies that count numbers and track the belugas movements, and an investigation into the effects of noise disturbance. A management plan has been developed that sets quotas for subsistence hunting, creates sanctuaries and restricts boat traffic in certain areas.

Visit the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry.

Beluga Whale (Eastern Hudson Bay)

Illustration of a Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Delphinapterus leucas - Illustration by G. Kuehl

Scientific name: Delphinapterus leucas
(SARA) Status: No Status
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
Region: Quebec, Arctic Ocean
Taxonomy: Mammals (marine)

Did You Know?

In order to feed successfully, belugas spend a significant amount of time underwater. The belugas are capable of frequent dives to depths of between 400 and 800 metres. The deepest dive recorded for a beluga was in excess of 1,000 metres. Like other marine mammals, belugas have specific adaptations for diving: twice as much blood in their systems as land animals of similar size, and blood cells that contain 10 times as much oxygen. Other adaptations include a lower sensitivity to carbon dioxide build-up and a greater ability for muscles to function with depleted oxygen levels.

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