Five things you didn't know about Beluga Whales

  1. Although beluga whales are well known as a snowy white whale, they actually aren't born white. Baby belugas are born grey-ish brown and their skin lightens as they age, becoming fully white at up to 8 years of age. The photo above, captured by Frontiers North guide Doug Ross, shows a young beluga surfacing in the Churchill River.
  2. Beluga whales are one of the most vocal types of whales. Often called the "Canaries of the Sea", they are natural mimics and emit squeaks, pops, whistles and chirps in order to communicate with other whales around them. Check out the recording below from BBC Earth to hear some of these incredible sounds. 
  3. ​Beluga whales are relatively slow swimmers, travelling at roughly an average of 2-6 mph (3 to 9 km/h), but they are capable of short bursts of speed up to 14 mph (22 km/h) for about 15 minutes. Belugas are also able to swim backwards, similar to dolphins. 
  4. The beluga is closely related to the narwhal; they are the only two members of the Monodontidae family. Like the narwhal, belugas evolved without a dorsal fin, allowing the them to break thin sea-ice if necessary in order to breathe.

  5. Beluga whales are the only whales with the ability to turn their heads. Generally whales' vertebraes are fused, meaning that they don't have a lot of range of motion in the movement of their necks. However beluga whales vertebraes are not fused, and as a result, a beluga has greater mobility and flexibility in its neck. This is why when you see a beluga in the Churchill River, whether you are paddle boarding, kayaking or viewing from a zodiac, the belugas often turn their heads to look right at you

A beluga whale with her calf checks out the photographer, John Gunter

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Main image: ©Doug Ross

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