Species

Beluga

medias

  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga
  • Beluga

Its annual range extends from the St. Lawrence Estuary to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and into the Saguenay Fjord.

It frequents coastal waters with strong currents such as river mouths.

The population is estimated at around 900 individuals.

St. Lawrence belugas are isolated from other populations of the species residing in the Arctic and distinct from a genetic perspective.

Elsewhere in the world, belugas are found only in the Northern Hemisphere, in seas, estuaries and rivers of circumpolar regions between the 50th and 80th parallels.

The St. Lawrence population is considered as “threatened” on the List of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec.

The St. Lawrence Estuary population is listed as “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s” (IUCN) List has listed global beluga populations as “near threatened”.

Suction is the main means of capturing prey that it hunts near the seabed.

It feeds on bottom-dwelling fish (capelin, herring, smelt, sand lance), eels and invertebrates (nereid worms, squid, octopuses, crustaceans).

A beluga uses its teeth to bite into its prey, which it swallows whole.


Illustrated species: (from high to low, from left to right): squid, eel, herring, capelin, shrimps, nereid worm.


The beluga is a gregarious animal, living in pairs and groups of 3 to several dozen individuals or clans, governed according to sex or age-based segregation.


Photo credit: GREMM

In the St. Lawrence, these clans are faithful to their territories.

Belugas have an extensive vocal repertoire consisting of whistles, chattering, squeals and grunts, earning them the nickname “canaries of the sea”.

The role of these vocalizations as they relate to social behaviour and communication is still poorly understood.

Specific sounds known as “calls” are emitted in situations of disturbance to maintain the cohesion of the pod, and particularly the contact between mothers and their calves.

For navigating and finding prey, belugas possess a high performance echolocation system comparable to radar.

Being the slow swimmers they are, belugas are happy to use the currents to travel.

In compact groups, individuals sometimes show themselves to be highly dynamic: they frolic about, rolling onto their sides and partially jutting out of the water, sticking their heads out and slapping the water surface with their tails.

These behaviours may be related to feeding, juvenile play, or sexual behaviour.

In the Arctic, belugas spend between 40 and 60% of their time below the surface.

Dives can last up to 15 minutes and reach depths of up to 800 m.


Photo credit: GREMM

Data on the diving behaviour of the St. Lawrence beluga are currently under analysis.

Studies on the complex organization of beluga social life are used as a basis for developing protective measures and the recovery plan for this species. Research projects on this emblematic animal of the St. Lawrence also provide a means of monitoring the health status of the ecosystems. With the arrival of new pollutants, chemical contamination remains a major threat to the beluga. For example, since 1982, necropsy (or autopsy) analysis has been regularly conducted on recovered carcasses. Other studies are carried out on noise pollution, which is a threat to the future of this population. Since 1984, the GREMM has managed the beluga catalogue, which features several hundred individuals.

To discover all the studies dedicated to this specie, consult the research projects on the St. Lawrence Beluga on Whales online.