The Beluga Whale

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Delphinapterus leucas STATUS: Endangered

Description of Animal

The Beluga Whale is a pure white, toothed animal with a normally rounded head. It has very thick skin in order to stay warm in the freezing cold waters of its arctic habitat. Female Beluga's have a growth expectancy of 3.5 m and males have 3.6 - 4 m in length with an average weight around 1360 kg Belugas are fully grown at about 10 years. Belugas have a life expectancy of around 16-25 years and they are at the top of their food chain.

Habitat/Ecozone of Beluga Whales

Belugas thrive in the Cold conditions of the Arctic waters but migrate according to ice free waters and the location of prey fish. In the Winter, Belugas are found in polynyas (an area of open water surrounded by ice) and in the summer they can be located in shallow bays and estuaries. During the early stages of a Belugas life, s/he along with its mother will stay in shallow, calmer waters by reef edges where the surface water is warmer and where prey such as mollusks, crustaceans and bottom fish are located. As Belugas reach adolescence they will travel to more open waters where there is larger prey and the Ocean temperature is cooler. In terms of location Belugas inhabit the Coasts of Northern Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States (Alaska).
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Trophic Significance of Beluga Whales

Beluga Whales are close to the top of the marine food chain and are powerful indicators of the overall health of the marine environment. As previously mentioned, during the early stages of a Belugas life, they will normally feed on crustaceans, mollusks and marine worms. As a Beluga grows their appetite will adapt to eating fish such as salmon, smelt, herring, Arctic and polar cod as well as squid octopus and flounder. Because of the flexibility of their necks, Beluga's are able to have a wide range of motion which benefits them as most of the prey they consume are located on the Ocean Floor. Belugas are opportunistic feeder and consume 2.5-3% of their body weight each day. Oppose to the environmental benefits their large appetites impose, Belugas are also a very vital source of food for the indigenous peoples living near their Arctic Habitat. With that being said, the vitality of having Belugas around is definitely pertinent in the sense that they control the populations of large sea fish like Salmon, Herring and Smelt which in turn helps stabilize the population of their prey like the crustaceans a young Beluga would feed on.

Reasons for Endangerment

Thousands of years of evolution have prepared the beluga for life on and around the sea ice. Because of climate change, that ice cover has been changing rapidly, in both extent and thickness, and shrinking far too quickly for these species to adapt. A beluga’s entire life is connected to sea ice, both as a place to feed and a place to take refuge. Slow swimming beluga whales rely on sea ice as a place to hide from predators like orcas, and they also use these floating chunks of ice as a means for knowing their position by using their intricate sonar abilities.

Another one of the major threats to Belugas is the development of the Oil and Gas industry in their Arctic habitat. The reason this is deterring the Beluga population is because as there are vessels that support the oil corporations coming through there will be increased shipping in sensitive areas. This can lead to pollution and the possibility of oil and gas spills however the most damage this industry causes is with noise pollution. Shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction and military activities are all guilty of contributing to Ocean noise pollution. The reason this affects Belugas is because of their keen sense of hearing that they use as sonar to understand the positioning of themselves as well as objects around them. When there is a major disturbance such as an underwater explosion, the Beluga will then become disoriented and will most likely collide with something such as another whale or will incidentally beach themselves.

Preventing the problem

There is an obvious necessity for oil in our society today, however this is the most detrimental aspect contributing to the Belugas endangerment. There are many organizations that are fighting to prevent noise pollution from entering the Arctic habitat because if Belugas can't hear they can't see or know where they are going. Many people have rallied together and lobby groups have created petitions to minimize the deep sea drilling and testing of possible Oil enriched locations. The most beneficial thing to do for the case of the Beluga is to be aware and knowledgeable. Because until there is no new effective means of drilling and looking for oil, the Beluga's hearing will continue to be damaged and so will the populations of the Beluga whales in their shivering cold habitat.

Work Cited

"Beluga." World Wildlife Fund. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

"Beluga Whales, Beluga Whale Pictures, Beluga Whale Facts - National Geographic." National Geographic. National Geographic Society. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

"Basic Facts About Beluga Whales." Defenders of Wildlife. Charity Navigator, 18 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.