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White whale (Beluga) (Delphinapterus leucas)

White whales, Horsund

White whale (Beluga)

Description: The White whale, often called Beluga, is a medium-sized toothed whale. Bulls can reach four and a half metres in length and 1,500 kg weight; cows are slightly smaller. They cannot be confused with any other whale because of their creamy-white colour, although they are grey during their first years. White whales tend to stay in groups of 20 or more animals.

Distribution / Migration: Many different areas around the North Pole have a White whale population. They can be found in coastal waters anywhere in Svalbard, often in fjords near glacier fronts. The size of the regional population is not known, but they are among the more common whales in Svalbard. Bulls and cows seem to stay in separate herds, but individuals may be flexible with regards to their bonds to a specific group. Their biology, including migration patterns, is still largely unknown, but they seem to spend the winter in areas with drift ice.

Biology: White whales are slow swimmers, but dive down to depths of 1,000 metres and have something like echo location to find food and for orientation. They feed on a range of species: fish, squid and, in other regions, salmon. Mating is in spring (April-May); the cows give birth between May and August of the following year. They may reach 40 years in age, being predated on by Polar bears and Orcas.

Miscellaneous: White whales have been hunted in Svalbard for centuries into the 1960s by Pomors and then by Norwegian trappers. Now they are protected in Svalbard waters, but still hunted in Canada and Greenland. The regional population seems to be slowly increasing.


last modification: 2014-10-27 · copyright: Rolf Stange