WHERE TO FIND THEM
The Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) is circumpolar. The majority are found in the Arctic Circle, although there are a few populations just below. They occupy coastal and estuarine areas off the coasts of Scandinavia, Greenland, Svalbard, the former Soviet Union and Canada.
Many Belugas winter in areas of loose pack ice where wind and ocean currents keep cracks and breathing holes open. Summers are spent in shallow bays and estuaries while some populations swim 1,000km or more up river.
Belugas – sometimes called Sea Canary because of the extensive range of vocalisations they make – are well adapted to living close to shore. They can swim in shallow water and manoeuvre in depths barely covering their bodies.
Most populations do not make extensive migrations. The longest migration is by those that winter in the Bering Sea and summer in the Mackenzie River, Canada. Some make no migration at all, such as the residents of the St. Lawrence River, Canada.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Beluga has no dorsal fin, but a ridge that extends along its back some 50cm occasionally forming a series of dark bumps. Its flippers are broad, short, paddle-shaped and a well-defined crease in the skin can be found behind the single blowhole.
Overall the whale has a light colouration that changes with age. The male is larger than the female at around 3-5m (10-16ft). The average weight of a whale is between 500 and 1500kg. It is a slow swimmer and spends much of its time near the surface.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals is a guide produced every two years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The main purpose of the list is to catalogue the species that are regarded as threatened at global level – overall extinction.
While the next list is not available until the end of March 2002, the organisation told deeperblue that figures for whales remain unchanged since 2000.
In the 2000 Red List, Beluga whales were classified as vulnerable, meaning they are not critically endangered but facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future. Today they have an estimated population of 50-70,000.