~ The Beluga ~

The Beluga, also known as the White Whale, sometimes called the "canaries of the sea", are the most vocal of all cetaceans. Their sounds can often be heard clearly above water and through the hull of boats.

Belugas are distinctive because of their all white, sometimes yellowish coloring. Calves are born dark to brownish gray and lighten as they age, becoming pure white between the ages of 5 and 13.

Males average a length of 12 to 18 feet, females average a length of 10 to 14 feet.

The Beluga is an arctic animal. Its body is robust and blubbery to handle cold water temperatures. The Beluga's body is also wrinkled and very flexible to an extent found in few other cetaceans. Its forehead is rounded and its entire head is small compared to its body. The forehead changes shape and the lips can appear rounded as the whale vocalizes. Belugas also have a visible neck that can move from side to side, giving them the ability to look behind them, much like a human.

Belugas can be difficult to find at sea since they have only a small dorsal ridge and no dorsal fin. However, they do swim slowly and surface often, and their white bodies contrast with the dark blue sea. It is much easier to find them in rivers like the Churchill in Manitoba or the St. Lawrence.

Belugas travel in groups of 5 to 20, but more than a thousand may congregate around estuaries and in rivers to feed in the summer.

Belugas have been known to swim hundreds of miles up river in Russia, Canada, and northern Europe. They have little fear of shallow water, and if stranded are often able to wait and refloat on the next tide. During strandings their eyes secrete a thick, clear mucus that is used to keep their eyes moist until they can get back to the water again. This mucus makes the Beluga appear to be "crying".

Belugas have been hunted by Russian, European, and native people for many centuries. A large number of Belugas are still taken for food, and numbers are down in some areas. Greater concerns, however, come from the effects of oil and gas activities and chemical pollution.

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