Beluga Whale | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Beluga Whale

Delphinapterus leucas

Also known as

White whale, sea canary, beluga

Distribution

Throughout the Arctic ocean and the St. Lawrence Estuary

Ecosystem/Habitat

Shallow, coastal waters and near ice edge

Feeding Habits

Foraging predator

Conservation Status

Endangered/Threatened/Special Concern

Taxonomy

Suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales); Family Monodontidae (white whales)

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Beluga whales are easy to spot, thanks to their white colour, large size and bulging forehead. At birth these pale whales aren’t white at all – they’re slate grey, and it can take up to eight years to develop their distinct white colour. They are unique among whales because they have very flexible necks and can move their head in almost any direction, separately from their body. They are also known as “sea canaries” because they are a chatty species. They are able to create such a wide variety of sounds due to the tissue in their large, bulbous forehead, called a melon, which is used to create and amplify sounds in the marine environment. The noises belugas make are both to communicate with their pod as well as to navigate. Belugas use echolocation to navigate in the dark waters of the Arctic Ocean.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has assessed and designated all seven populations of Beluga whales in Canadian waters as being at-risk; however only two populations are listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Their conservation status by population is listed below:

  • St. Lawrence Estuary population. COSEWIC listing: Endangered – 2014, SARA listing: Schedule 1 – Threatened
  • Ungava Bay population. COSEWIC listing: Endangered – 2004, SARA listing: Not listed
  • Western Hudson Bay population. COSEWIC listing: Special concern – 2004, SARA listing: Not listed
  • Eastern Hudson Bay population. COSEWIC listing: Endangered – 2004, SARA listing: Not listed
  • Eastern High Arctic-Baffin Bay population. COSEWIC listing: Special Concern – 2004, SARA listing: Not listed
  • Cumberland Sound population. COSEWIC listing: Threatened – 2004, SARA listing: Not listed
  • Southeast Baffin Island-Cumberland Sound. COSEWIC listing: Non-active– 2004, SARA listing: Schedule 2-Endangered

Oceana Canada is working to protect Canada’s oceans for species like the Beluga whale. Find out more about our campaigns and join us in helping to bring abundance back to the ocean.