For our arctic marine life enthusiasts, it’s your lucky day! About two weeks ago, a single beluga whale was spotted less than ten miles off the coast of San Diego, California. This is unheard of for beluga whales, and is quite literally thousands of miles away from their normal range! The farthest south they have been spotted previously is near Washington state and Alaska.
The individual was spotted by a whale watching tour and then recorded with a drone to get a better look at the animal. Check out the drone footage here. At this time, marine biologists are not certain why this whale was spotted so far south. Below you’ll see a map from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from a National Geographic article. It shows the native range of the beluga whale and just how far south this individual went to hit San Diego!
All About Delphinapterus leucas
Beluga whales are one of my personal favorites when it comes to the ocean! They are unique in the way they swim, communicate, and travel. They make up one of the two members in the “white whale” group; the other member being the narwhal! Fun fact, they can swim backward! This helps them navigate through the ice and adds agility to their movements.
Beluga whales weigh about 3,000 pounds (1-1.5 tons) and can live anywhere from 35 to 60 years. They are 13-20 feet in length, and considered carnivores. They are easily identified by their beautiful white and grey coloring and small size (compared to other whales). When a beluga whale is born; they are gray or crimson brown and as they age they develop their characteristic white color.
Beluga whales are social and travel in groups called pods. Generally, their pod sizes are small consisting of family groups. However, some pods have hundreds of individuals in them! Beluga whales are known to move between groups and do not have a set bond with a particular pod for life.
These whales have a plethora of vocalizations that they utilize for communication. They have even earned the name “canaries of the sea” due to the variety of sounds they make (NOAA Fisheries)! Some of these sounds include whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, clicks, clangs. They have a “melon” made of blubber on their forehead that allows them to make these sounds, and make expressions with their face.
Baby Beluga?! Try Highly Adapted Carnivore!
Photo Source: World Wildlife Fund
According to NOAA Fisheries, beluga whales have a varied diet. They can hunt and eat octopus, crab, squid, shrimp, clams, snails, worms, and a lot of different kinds of fish. Types of fish they hunt are salmon, cod, sole, herring, eulachon, smelt, flounder. To hunt, these whales use their best senses; hearing and sight. Their keen vision allows them to see well both in and out of the water. They use echolocation to hone in on their prey, and then track it with their eyes to capture it! Echolocation is finding the location of something based on the reflection of sound. It is an ability that only a few animals have.
Where would you find these magical creatures?! They live in the waters of the tundra! Beluga whales live in the Arctic ocean, the subarctic waters, and parts of the Northern Hemisphere. During the summer months, they travel to more shallow waters. Adaptable in nature, the beluga whale can even live in warmer freshwater habitats such as estuaries and river deltas (NOAA). They are adventurous and explore living in different levels of water; some very deep and others extremely shallow. Natural predators of the beluga whale are polar bears and killer whales.
Threats on the Horizon
Unfortunately, this type of whale is sensitive to anthropogenic threats. They are listed as near threatened which means they are at risk of extinction. The biggest threats to their population size are habitat destruction, pollution from chemicals and trash, commercial finishing, oil and gas development, climate change, noise pollution, and strandings.
Photo Source: National Geographic
As a large predator, the beluga whale is an asset to the ocean. They help keep the food chain balanced and the ecosystems healthy. Additionally, they have cultural importance and value to indigenous communities that live in the Arctic.
Beluga whales have been negatively affected by a myriad of human activities. World Wildlife Fund talks about the noise pollution interfering with their hunting, mating season, navigation, parental care, and ability to escape predation.
If you do see a beluga whale in distress or danger, it is always a good idea to immediately report this to wildlife care professionals and organizations. Avoid approaching beluga whales or any marine animal. If you are out whale watching or viewing marine life in general, it is important to keep your distance and only observe them for a short amount of time.
These whales are AMAZING! I hope that through awareness and education, we can sustain beluga whale conservation. Thanks for reading our blog post and supporting Respect the Fin!
Written By: Bailey Higa