Beluga whales are toothed whales, and the smallest whales.

Whales are in the animal group called cetaceans. Beluga whales and narwhals (the only cetacean with a long tusk)  are together in a small family called Monodontidae. Beluga whales are toothed whales, and the smallest whales.

Body and behaviours

Beluga whale. ©Getty Images

Beluga whale. ©Getty Images

 Their size ranges from about 4 to 6 metres in length. The Beluga whale has a rounded melon head, a short snout called a 'beak', and well-defined teeth. They have no dorsal fin, but instead have a dorsal ridge that helps them travel in waters with sea ice.

The Beluga is grey at birth but turns completely white when it is about five years old. The white colour makes them easy to see in the dark ocean, but hard to see among floating ice or in seas when the waves are white.

They have very thick skin, especially around the melon, which helps it break through ice to breathe air. Unusually for cetaceans, the neck vertebrae of beluga whales are not fused together so they can move their heads up and down and to each side, an adaptation that helps them catch prey in icy or murky areas.

Beluga whales are very vocal and produce a great variety of sounds that can be clearly heard over distance. The beluga whale and Irrawaddy dolphins are the only cetaceans that can move their faces to produce sounds.

They travel in groups of five to ten. They sometimes travel long distances up large rivers in order to breed.

Habitat and distribution

They are found in the Arctic, including Greenland and Alaska.


Beluga whales feed on a wide variety of marine life such as salmon, whiting, sole, cod and other fish, octopus, crabs, clams, mussels and snails. They also often hunt in deep water for fish found on the bottom of the ocean, such as flounder and halibut.

Conservation Status and Threats

Beluga whale with calf. ©Getty Images

Beluga whale with calf. ©Getty Images

Because they live near coasts and swim up rivers where they enter the sea, Beluga whales are very vulnerable to water pollution. Poisonous substances collect in their blubber and in their milk. The Belugas of the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada are badly affected by pollution.

They are considered to be Endangered in some areas and Near Threatened in others.


Read more about beluga whales:

Read about the narwhal, the other member of the same family:

Read the kidcyber page about whales