The beluga, or white whale, is one of the smallest species of whale, weighing around 2000-3000lbs and measuring 13-20 feet. Their distinctive white colour and prominent foreheads make them easily identifiable. Belugas are extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in large groups known as ‘pods’, which range from a few individuals to hundreds of whales.

Given the name, ‘the canary of the sea’, Belugas often produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals as a way of communicating and conveying important information to one another.

 Scientifically know as Delphinapterus Leucas, they are most commonly found in the Arctic Ocean’s coastal waters, though they are also found in subarctic water as well. Arctic belugas migrate southward in large herds when the sea freezes over. Belugas trapped by arctic ice often die and become prey for polar bears, killer whales, and for Arctic people.

Beluga whales are carnivores, feeding on a variety of fish species, such as salmon and herring, as well as shrimp, crabs and molluscs. Whales, like the beluga, are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Beluga whales are also culturally important to indigenous communities in the Arctic. Like polar bears, the beluga depends on sea ice for its existence and can be directly impacted by climate change.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, beluga whales are listed as near threatened. The population worldwide is more than 150,000 and their population is well distributed across the oceans. However, they are hunted by indigenous people in the Arctic and by commercial fisheries. This has led to population declines in those areas, such as West Greenland, where surveys found that beluga numbers had decreased by 62 percent between 1981 and 1994.