Beluga Whales

Meet our Belugas

Sometimes known as “white whales” for, well, obvious reasons, belugas are actually born dark grey. Their white color is an Arctic camouflage nature provides belugas with as they mature. This helps them to swim more safely in the icy waters they call home.

The mysterious beluga whale is one of our park’s most sociable and enchanting animals, and a beautiful example of the many wonders of the sea.

Long ago, mariners nicknamed beluga whales “sea canaries.” In fact, belugas are sometimes heard before they’re seen, thanks to as many as 50 vocalizations that researchers have observed.

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Facts

Beluga Whale Facts

Belugas are a species of whale, but you may notice that something’s missing – a dorsal fin. 

Instead, belugas have a low dorsal ridge that lets them easily swim beneath thick ice sheets and find breathing holes – a pretty cool adaptation essential to life in one of the coldest regions of the globe.

Here are a few other interesting facts about beluga whales:

• Watch a beluga whale long enough and you may notice this fact for yourself: belugas are actually among the few whales that have un-fused neck vertebrae. This makes their necks flexible and gives their heads a strikingly wide range of motion.

• Beluga whales live in social groups called pods, which may have anywhere from two to two-dozen members. The average pod size is around 10. A single large male is usually the pod leader. 

• During migrations, it’s not uncommon for a number of smaller pods to come together to form larger groups of 200 to 10,000 individuals. After all, nature knows there’s safety in numbers.

• Fun fact for kids: Unlike most whales, Belugas can swim both forward and backward!

Connections

Make a Connection

Beluga whales make their home at all three of our SeaWorld® parks. In fact, SeaWorld is one of the few places in the world where you can actually enter the water alongside the sea’s most charming inhabitants and make a connection of your own.

If you’re planning a trip to Orlando, San Diego or San Antonio, be sure to sign up in advance for one of these unforgettable Beluga Interaction Programs. Limited to just a few guests each day, you’ll not only get to touch and feed these fascinating animals, you’ll also learn how our trainers communicate with them – and maybe even get to try a few communication skills for yourself.

Conservation

Conservation

The worldwide population of beluga whales is estimated to be around 60,000 to 80,000. An isolated population in the St. Lawrence River has been protected since 1983 by Canadian government agencies. The goal of the St. Lawrence Action Plan was to eliminate 90% of industrial emissions in the St. Lawrence River within 10 years – and it worked. The plan actually led to a 96% reduction in emissions by 1993.

But emissions in areas like the St. Lawrence River are only one of the many conservation challenges facing beluga whales. The continued decline of the beluga population can be attributed to other controllable factors, like oil and gas exploration and production, overfishing of salmon and other prey fishes, diminishing habitat quality due to increased coastal community development and pollution from other industrial activities.

Currently the ICUN lists the beluga as “vulnerable,” meaning the species is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Because of their vary low population size, one particular species, the Cook Inlet population, has been on the endangered list since 2008.

Find out what you can do to help conserve wildlife and wild places through the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. This non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization puts 100% of donations to work in the wild. Read about some of our success stories and learn how you can get involved at swbg-conservationfund.org.

Q&A

Q&A

Q: Where are beluga whales found?

SW: Their snow-white color is the first clue to this answer. The beautiful beluga whale is entirely arctic and sub-arctic, making its home in the Arctic Ocean, as well as neighboring seas, including the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, the Beaufort Sea, Baffin Bay, the Hudson Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Typically belugas live in these areas’ shallow coastal waters, where the water may be barely deep enough to cover their whole bodies. In the summer, they can also be found in warmer-water estuaries and river basins.

Q: Are belugas endangered?

SW: Certain species are. In Alaska, just over 300 beluga whales live in the northern part of Cook Inlet. Unfortunately, this subspecies is listed as endangered due to its small population and lack of recovery from earlier hunting and other threats. Globally the population is only around 100,000, leaving the species on the ICUN Red List as “near threatened.”  

Q: What do beluga whales eat?

SW: Beluga whales eat about 100 different types of mainly bottom-dwelling sea animals. A meal for them may be octopus, squid, crabs, snails, sandworms, and fishes such as capelin, cod, herring, smelt and flounder.

Q: What about size, how big do beluga whales get?

SW: Male beluga whales get to be around 11 to 15 feet long (3.4 - 5.5 m) and can weigh up to 3,300 lbs. (1,500 kg). Female belugas will reach closer to 10 to 14 feet (3 - 4.3 m) long and weigh in around 3,000 lbs or less (1,360 kg).

Teacher's Corner

Teacher’s Corner

Whether you’re leading a classroom or home schooling, you’ll find one of the most comprehensive collections of animal education resources online at SeaWorld.org. From teacher guides to ideas for classroom activities, this in-depth resource offers free materials to help your students connect with wildlife and wild places. You can even search or download a printer-friendly version of our InfoBook on Beluga Whales.

Adventure Camps are another wonderful way to immerse school groups, scouts, church groups or your own young animal lovers into the world of wildlife. Adventure Camps are held in all three of our SeaWorld parks, as well as Busch Gardens® Tampa.