Each day the sunrises and we begin our daily grind, we inevitably will be in touch with the ecology that surround us. When we run the water to brush our teeth and take our showers, when we get in our vehicles and drive to work, when we come home and check our email on our computers, when we call our friends on our cell phones, and when we dispose of our trash throughout our day.
Ecology is the study of our earth – it’s relationships with organisms and their environment, and how those relationships affect the planet. There is a lot we can do as a species to help our environment sustain itself. And a great way to begin is to get educated.
Beluga Whales and Ecology / The Sea Canary
The Beluga whale or the white whale as it is also known because of its white color is a species of cetacean that is found in arctic and sub arctic regions. It is the other member of the family monodontidae. The beluga whale with a scientific name of Delphinapterus leucas is also called the sea canary because of its high pitched twittering call.
It can grow up to 5 meters in length and has an unmistakable all white color with a unique protuberance on its head. Belugas inhabiting the Cook Inlet region in Alaska have been put on the endangered species list and are now under federal protection.
Beluga Whales and Ecology / The Stats
Males can reach lengths of 5.5 meters and females being slightly smaller can grow up to 4.1 meters in length. Adult male belugas range in weight from 1100 to 1600 kilograms and females can range from 700 to 1200 kilograms. These marine mammals are bigger than the largest dolphins but are still smaller than most toothed whales. Adult belugas are unmistakable with their all white or whitish grey coloration.
The head is distinctive and is not similar to any other cetacean. Similar to other toothed whales the beluga has a fatty dome on the center of its forehead called a melon. Unlike other cetaceans the beluga’s melon is extremely bulbous and is even somewhat malleable.
Belugas can change the shape of their heads by blowing air around their sinuses. Another difference that belugas have with dolphins and other toothed whales is that their neck vertebrae are not fused and they are able to turn their necks from side to side.
Beluga Whales and Ecology / Population
The population of belugas today is estimated to be 100,000 individuals. This number is much greater than other cetaceans but it is still much smaller than the populations before the days of overhunting. Belugas are considered to be an excellent sentinel species.
This means that they can be indicators of the health and changes in their particular environment. Part of the reason for this is their relative longevity, their position in the food chain, and the relatively large numbers.
Beluga Whales and Ecology / Their Vulnerability
The belugas behaviors of congregating in river estuaries have also made them vulnerable to pollution generated by humans. Incidents of cancer in belugas have reportedly been on the increase. Belugas living in the vicinity of the St. Lawrence River have so much contaminant in their bodies that carcasses of dead belugas in this area are treated as toxic waste.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the beluga as a “near-threatened” species. This listing is due to the doubtful numbers of belugas especially in the Russian arctic. It is also quite reasonable to expect that if current conservation efforts cease especially controls over hunting, that the beluga population will reach levels that will be in a “threatened” status.
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