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  There are a total of 13 species of whales in the St. Lawrence including the blue whale, the killer whale, the humpback whale and the north atlantic right whale.  Belugas in the St. Lawrence are considered ‘urban whales’ because they live relatively close to major population centres along the St. Lawrence. 900 belugas live in the St. Lawrence – down from a population of 10,000 in 1885. At the moment, the population is on a slow decline and has not recovered, despite an end to hunting, and increased habitat protection.  Commercial whaling for belugas has been banned since in 1950’s and sport hunting since 1979. Because of their vocalizations (high pitched whistles to low grunts) they are nicknamed sea canaries. Belugas are among the smallest of whales, 3-4 metres long and about 2000 kg. They don’t have a dorsal fin. This is an adaptation to arctic waters, which helps preserve heat. Belugas can shelter under ice to escape from predators because they don’t have a dorsal fin like killer whales.  Belugas can dive deep, up to 800 metres to forage for fish on the ocean floor staying underwater for 15 minutes. Belugas find their food through eco-location, sound.  Belugas have a bulbous forehead called a melon which is flexible allowing them to make different facial expressions.  Baby belugas are born knowing only a contact call the others are learned from the group, just like a human baby.  Belugas can give birth every 3 years to a single calf. Babies are born in estuaries, places where the river meets the ocean. Muddy water and dark grey colour of the baby help hide from predators. They turn white at 10-12 years of age – life span in the wild is about 60- 80 years. Belugas are the only whales that can turn their heads to look around. They are also able to swim backwards. Belugas have an insulating layer of blubber about 10-15 cm thick to protect them in the cold. Thickness varies with season and water temperature, up to 40% of the beluga’s weight.

For more watch, Call of the Baby Beluga on The Nature of Things.

 

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