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About Whales

White Whales

The white whale, also known as the beluga whale, is a species of whale belonging to the taxonomic family monodontidae. White whales live in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, occupying the Arctic Ocean and seas near the coasts of North America, Greenland, and Russia. Most white whales do not remain in one small region, and instead migrate in very large herds from more central areas in the ocean to coastal areas and estuaries in the summer; however, some populations of white whales do not migrate and remain relatively stationary.

Beluga Whale Classification:

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Monodontidae
Genus: Delphinapterus
Species: Leucas

Other Names: White Whale, Sea Canary, Belukha, White Porpoise and White Squidhound

Beluga Whale in Foreign Languages:

Mandarin: Baijing / Beiluka Jing
Danish: Hvidhval
Dutch: Beloega
Estonian: Valgevaal
Finnish: Maitovalas / Beluga
French: Beluga/ Belouga
German: WeiBwal / Beluga
Greenlandic: Qilalugaq Qaqortaq
Hungarian: Beluga / Feher Delfin
Japanese: Shiroiruka
Navajo: Teeh Hoyaaniitsoh
Romanian: Beluga
Russian: Beluxa / Beluga
Spanish: Beluga

Beluga Whale

Conservation Status: Near Threatened / Threatened

White whales, on average, measure about 10-18 feet in length and weighing between 1,500 and 3,500 pounds, with males' being usually about 25% larger than females. As their name suggests, adult white whales are white or greyish-white in color. However, white whale calves are born grey in color, and lose pigmentation and become paler as they age. Usually, white whales take on a creamy white color by the time they are seven to nine years old. A white whale's skin may develop a yellow tint when it thickens during the winter, although this change in color is temporary and often slight.

White whales are carnivorous, and feed opportunistically. This means that what a white whale eats depends significantly on which region it occupies and even on the time of year. Most white whales subsist primarily on fish, but will also feed on shrimp, crabs, clams, small octopuses, squid, sea snails, and other such organisms. White whales, however, are limited in selecting food by their means of feeding; since they ingest prey by suction and therefore eat their prey whole, white whales cannot hunt relatively large organisms, as they may become caught in the whales' throats.

Being particularly social animals, white whales tend to live in groups, or pods, containing as few as two and as many as around 20 other individuals. White whales in pods are highly interactive with one another, and communicate with one another through sounds, rub up against one another, and engage in behavior that appears to many people to be playing. However, pods are dynamic, and white whales may enter and leave new pods quickly and with great frequency.

White whales communicate using high-pitched whistling noises that resemble a bird's twittering, and for this reason are sometimes called "sea canaries." They use these noises not only to communicate, but as echolocation to facilitate motion and to help them locate breathing holes in ice and prey in waters with poor visibility. This behavior is very useful, as white whales have relatively poor and short-range vision, but very sensitive hearing.

White whales have a conservation status of "nearly threatened," meaning that they are approaching endangerment should current threats to wild populations persist. The main threat that white whales face is that of humans, who have long hunted the whales. White whales also experience predation by their only natural predators, polar bears and killer whales, though this limiting factor alone is most likely insufficient to effect endangerment. Lastly, white whales face health dangers posed by chemicals found in their food sources and various pathogens. In spite of these factors, however, the average white whale is thought to have a life span of around 70 years.

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