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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

  Cetacea · Monodontidae · Delphinapterus leucas

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Delphinapterus leucas


Order: Cetacea
Family: Monodontidae

Image of Delphinapterus leucas
Delphinapterus leucas - female, upper; subadult, lower
Click to enlarge this image. (51 kb)

Conservation Status: Near Threatened.

Beluga are a Northern Hemisphere species, and have a thick layer of blubber that enables them to live in icy polar waters. They breed in the winter. The mother's pregnancy lasts about a year, and the calf nurses for two years on her rich milk. Beluga visit warm-water estuaries during the summer, possibly because warmth may accelerate the annual molting, or shedding, of their outer skin. After they molt, they are bright white. They are social animals who live in groups called "pods," which may consist of several hundred individuals. Beluga make a variety of squeaks and chirps while traveling. Sailors who could hear them through the sides of their wooden ships called them "sea canaries." Polar bears and killer whales are known predators.

Also known as:

White Whale, Belukha, Sea Canary

Sexual Dimorphism:

Males are larger than females.


Range: 3.4-4.9 m males; 3.3-4 m females


Range: 800-1,500 kg males; 540-790 kg females


Pallas, P.S., 1776.  Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen des Russischen Reichs, p. 85. St. Petersbourg, viii, Pt. 2, nxxvi.


Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).

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Distribution of Delphinapterus leucas

Image of Delphinapterus leucas
Click to enlarge this image. (87kb)

Skull of Delphinapterus leucas
Click to enlarge this image. (34kb)

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