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.

Canadian Geographic articles

White whales in the Arctic

by Ven. Donald B. Marsh
July 1950

This article features an impressive set of step-by-step pictures of Inuit hunting belugas in the North. The text describes the hunt from the initial spotting of the white whale to the catch and the harvesting.  The whale in this story was very large and could not be hauled aboard the boat whole, so the decision was made to cut the carcass into pieces.

The process begins with severing the head and tail, fairly easy tasks. The underbelly is then cut from end to end, and the fat and skin stripped from the carcass. The most difficult task is dragging the body over the edge of the boat. Using a rope thrown ashore, it takes many men and women to drag parts of the whale up onto the beach, away from the tide. The boat owner takes the largest share of the catch, and the remainder is distributed among the crew members.

No portion of the beluga is wasted. For example, the skins are made into winter food for both humans and dogs, and used for boot soles, kayak covers, and other waterproof material; the head and bones with bits of meat are food for the dogs; and the stomach is used as a container for carrying liquids or solids.

The conclusion states that the white whale forms a great reservoir of food and energy for men and dogs for the long Arctic winter. It also provides a delicacy for the several hundreds of Inuit who assemble at Whitefish Station on the Arctic coast for the annual hunt each spring, a hunt that is for both business and sport and provides a happy time that they look forward to every year.

White whales of the St. Lawrence

by Randall Reeves
March/April 1976

The author begins this article by saying that beluga or white whales in general have been well-studied, but those in the St. Lawrence River have received very little systematic attention from scientists. However, one scientist, Jean Laurin, is determined to rebuild the area’s faltering beluga population and promote their long-term survival. The author, besides visiting the beluga habitat, follows the research of that scientist.

Laurin’s interest is in living whales and in examining their social structure, migratory habits and relationships with other forms of life in the St. Lawrence. In 1974, Laurin arrived in the Saguenay region of Quebec and began an extensive study of the white whales.

Despite the fact that his study has been hindered along the way by a shortage of funds, Laurin has gathered an impressive volume of information. And even though the St. Lawrence beluga population is small compared to large groups that lived there as recently as the 1800s, to begin explaining the reasons for their movements and behaviour will take years of meticulous observation.

The article also includes other interesting information about the St. Lawrence whales, such as their life span, size compared to those in different geographic regions, lack of protection, and years of harvesting/commercial whale-hunting.

With recent popular interest in preserving whales around the world, and with scientific investigation, the beluga population may recover. Otherwise, the plight of the whales may worsen, and they may just become show-pieces in aquariums with little chance for survival in a natural habitat.

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