Live At Mystic Aquarium

Beluga Whale Fast Facts

Beluga Basics

  • Belugas are mammals because they are warm-blooded, have hair, breathe air, give birth to and nurse live young.
     
  • Belugas belong to the order Cetacea (si-TAY-sha), a group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. Their sub-order is Odontoceti (oh-don-tuh-SEE-tee), or “toothed whales.”
     
  • Males can weigh up to 1,600-2,500 lbs and measure 12-15 feet long. Females can weigh up to 1,100-2,000 lbs and measure 11-13 feet.
     
  • Beluga is a Russian word that means “white one.”
     
  • Mystic Aquarium is the only place in New England with a live beluga whale exhibit.


In The Wild

  • Belugas can live to be 25-30 years old. Under human care, they can live well into their 40s.
     
  • It takes five to seven years before females can give birth; males reach maturity in eight to nine years.
     
  • Belugas are slow swimmers and mostly swim between two and six miles per hour. Some have been seen swimming as fast as 17 mph.
     
  • Belugas swim in groups called “pods” ranging from two to 25 animals. The pods sometimes congregate, bring thousands of belugas together.
     
  • Belugas vocalize from their blowholes, emitting everything from low, foghorn type sounds to high-pitched, bird-like clicks and squeaks. This has earned them the nickname “canaries of the sea.” Mystic Aquarium’s belugas know over 50 different vocalizations.
     
  • Each year belugas molt, losing a thick layer of skin. The new, smoother skin makes it easier for them to swim and catch their food.
     
  • In the 1800s a fossilized beluga skeleton was found in Vermont, 150 miles from any ocean, mystifying naturalists. The site was later discovered to have been beneath an Ice Age extension of the Atlantic Ocean. The skeleton is now Vermont’s official state fossil.
     
  • As a species, belugas are not threatened or endangered. However, in some areas they are in danger of disappearing. The population in Canada’s St. Lawrence River has high rates of cancer due to chemicals being dumped upstream. And, like many other arctic species, the loss of ice now underway threatens their survival.


Food

  • Belugas feed by diving deeply to the seabed in search of fish, squid, worms, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, clams, mussels, and zooplankton. Unlike most other whales, they have a flexible neck. This allow them to scan a broader area of the sea bottom, where they spit and suck water to sweep sand away to expose their prey.
     
  • Mystic Aquarium’s belugas are hand-fed 50-80 lbs of herring, capelin, mackerel, squid, and sardines per day.
     
  • Belugas get all their fresh water from the fish that they eat.
     
  • Belugas use their teeth not to chew food but to grasp their prey, which they swallow whole.
     
  • In the wild, belugas are food themselves for polar bears and orca whales. Belugas and their predators have coexisted for millions of years, however, and the major threat to beluga survival today comes from human impacts.
     

Why Do They Look Like That?

  • The white and light grey color of the skin helps belugas camouflage themselves in the arctic environment. It might also help reduce the rate of heat loss from their bodies.
     
  • Belugas have a thick layer of insulating blubber. This layer can be 4 inches thick and constitutes approximately 40-50% of the whale’s body weight.
     
  • Belugas have no dorsal fin, which reduces heat loss and avoids the possibility of it being injured by the ice floes that they frequently swim under.
     
  • The bulging forehead of the beluga is called its “melon,” and is filled with a semi-liquid fat. The melon is thought to focus and direct sonar-like sounds that help it navigate and find food. Belugas interpret their environment by sending out a series of clicks and whistles that bounce off surrounding objects using a technique called “echolocation.” After bouncing off of an object, the clicks and whistles are received through the lower jaw and transmitted to the middle ear and brain. The time lapse between click and echo enables the beluga to evaluate the distance of an object and what it is.
     
  • The beluga’s melon may also act as a cushion when the animal pushes through the ice to create a breathing hole.

At Home In Mystic

  • Mystic Aquarium’s belugas live in the Arctic Coast exhibit in one of the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibits in the U.S. It has three interconnected pools holding 750,000 gallons of water and surrounded by rocks, glacial streams and northern evergreens.
     
  • The Aquarium reuses 90 percent of the water in the exhibit. The water is constantly being filtered and treated before being cycled back into the pools. Technicians keep a close eye on clarity and bacteria content to keep the quality high and the whales thriving.
     
  • Visitors can watch the whales close-up through three 20-foot-long underwater windows or from outdoor overlooks of the pools. There are caves built into the rockwork and the belugas can be viewed swimming inside through bubble-shaped windows.
     
  • You can also watch the Aquarium’s staff working and playing with the animals. For even closer experiences, the Aquarium offers a variety of beluga encounter programs.
     
  • More information about the beluga exhibit and the many other attractions at Mystic Aquarium can be found at www.mysticaquarium.org.