Species At Risk

Beluga

(Delphinaptris leucas)

Special Concern

Beluga

Description

The Beluga is a relatively small mammal compared to other whales, normally reaching about four metres long and weighing about one tonne. Belugas have white skin as adults (young Belugas are a soft grey), a dorsal ridge rather than a true fin, and a pronounced “melon-head”.

Belugas are social and very vocal. They produce a wide range of complex sounds for communication with other individuals. Most of these calls can be heard by humans, especially when these whales congregate in shallow waters in the summer.

Action we are taking:

Range

Beluga whales have a circumpolar distribution, occurring in the waters of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. In Canada, there are seven distinct populations. The Western Hudson Bay population spends the summer mainly off the coasts of Ontario and Manitoba.

Habitat

Belugas are migratory. In summer, they congregate in river estuaries and shallow bays, where they moult and calve. In the fall, Belugas migrate to areas of open ocean that remain open during winter. Individuals from Ontario usually winter in seas off Baffin Island, where they mingle with individuals from other populations.

Threats

The last count of Western Hudson Bay Belugas was in the late 1980s, when aerial surveys estimated the population size at about 25,000 whales. While there are no recent data on population trends, there is concern that hunting pressures have increased on the Ontario population since the last census.

Other threats include disturbance from increased freight shipping in the Hudson Bay area. There is some concern that shoreline disturbance from hydroelectric development in Hudson Bay lowlands could change the river estuary and bay habitats, and hence impact the summer population.

Protection

The Beluga is listed as a species of Special Concern under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. In Canada, Belugas are managed under the federal Fisheries Act. Special regulations allow Belugas to be hunted by Canadian Indians and Inuit.

What You Can Do to Help the Beluga

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Beluga . You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).

Did you know?

The name “Beluga” means ‘the white one’ in Russian.

Did you know?

The Beluga’s enlarged forehead is involved in echo-location, in which clicks are emitted to help locate prey and aid in navigation under ice. The forehead is thought to focus the clicks.

Did you know?

To feed, Belugas spend a lot of time under water. They are capable of frequent dives of 400 to 800 metres. The deepest dive recorded from a male Beluga was in excess of 1,000 metres.

Did you know?

In captivity, Belugas consume about 10 to 15 kilograms of food every day.

Did you know?

Belugas are warm-blooded, with about the same internal body temperature as humans. Their blubber layer, 2.5 to 9.5 centimetres of fat lying immediately below the skin, helps to maintain their body temperature in ice-filled waters.


The Endangered Species Act


Contact your local ministry office


Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.