Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
The beluga whale can be found throughout the Arctic Ocean and in the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Did you know?

The beluga whale is a highly vocal animal and has been called the canary of the sea.

Scientific name: Delphinapterus leucas
Average weight: 400 kg–1,000 kg (male)
250 kg–700 kg (female)
Average length: 3 m–5 m
Average lifespan: 30–40 years (maximum 70–80 years)
Beluga whales moving about in the water.

Our changing understanding

In the early 1900s, the skin of the beluga whale was made into laces in England; today, the carcasses of chemically laced belugas wash ashore along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. A sad legacy.

The whale has long been a staple for some Inuit communities, where all parts of the animal are used, as was reported in early articles in Canadian Geographic. Later articles, however, focused on the continuing challenges the white whale faces, especially in the St. Lawrence.

Historically hunted for its oil and skin, as well as for sport, the beluga was then blamed in the early 1930s for depleting prime commercial fish stocks, such as salmon and Arctic cod in the St. Lawrence. As a result, a bounty was put on the beluga in 1932. However, after examining the stomach contents of harvested belugas for several years, scientists reported that the beluga preys on smaller fish and is not responsible for the decline in commercial fish. So seven years after it was put into effect, the bounty was lifted.

Dissecting dead whales was the way they were studied at the time. This practice started to change in the 1970s, when more forward-thinking scientists began studying whales in their natural habitat. It was also around this time that the industry of whale-watching started to take off. But the effect of biological magnification (pesticides and heavy metals entering and working their way up the food chain) was hitting the belugas hard. While some populations remain healthy, others have been placed on vulnerable or threatened lists, waiting for humans to clean up their act.