Featured Sound: Beluga Whale



Well, hello there!! My name is Delphinapterus leucas. My friends just call me Beluga. That comes from the Russian word Belukha which means white. I live in a pod, or a group of about 10 beluga whales, in the arctic and subartic areas of the world during most of the year. During the summer months, I vacation in warmer freshwater estuaries and river basins.

Drawing by Lee Ann DiSalvia McWeeney.

I am a beautiful white color. That’s because I’m almost 9 years old and considered an adult. When I was born, I was a dark gray color but over time I gradually lightened until I became the unusual color you see today. Thank goodness I finally changed! My white color helps me to blend in with ice and icebergs and acts as camouflage from predators in the ocean such as orcas and humans. I’ve grown to about 15 feet long (I’ve never actually measured myself) and I weigh about 3,300 pounds (I’ve never seen a scale either). My flippers are short, rounded, and wide and my fluke (my tail) is wide and deeply notched. I don’t have a dorsal fin like most whales but that’s good because my sleek form (okay, I’m really short, stocky, and rather rotund) helps me to swim under large pieces of ice until I can find a breathing hole to pop up into. Another unusual body feature is that I have an unfused neck vertebrate. This means that my neck is movable and flexible giving me a lot of different positions that I can move my neck into.

Another nickname that I have is Sea Canary. One reason is because I am considered one of the most creative of whales, sound-wise that is. I can make all sorts of noises including whistles, chirps, clicks, snorts, squeaks, and yaps – I often sound like I am actually singing. My songs and vocalizations can even be heard above water. It’s really quite amazing because I don’t have vocal folds to vocalize like humans. I can force the air between two airsacs (my nasal passages)underneath my blowhole or focus it into a narrow beam of sound through my melon shaped forehead (I have a very advanced echolocation system). Because of my flexible neck, flexible lips, and the bulb of soft blubber around my head I sometimes look like I can change my facial expression when I’m making sound. My girlfriend likes that because she thinks I’m blowing her kisses – really I’m just whistling for my dinner! Let me explain. I use sounds for a few reasons. The first one is for echolocation. The noises I make are a special kind of animal sonar as the echoes bounce off objects in the water then comes back to me. This helps to form sort of a sound picture of shapes and sizes of things I encounter, without using eyesight. Then I can navigate around the ocean, find squid, fish, and crustaceans to eat, and look for breathing holes in the giant sheets of ice. Another thing I use my chirps, squeaks, and other sounds for is for communication. I love to be sociable!

The gossip I hear lately is that a few of my friends have begun to lose their hearing. Other ocean creatures call belugas noisy animals. Let me tell you, we are nothing like those humans. Now they are NOISY! All those shipping boats and whale watching vessels all day long. Before beluga’s just had to worry about becoming sick from toxins from humans (and those are troublesome enough!). Now I have to worry about noise pollution, how the noise is effecting my echolocation, and whether or not my girlfriend can hear me whistling to her. Truthfully, I’m not sure how these sustained noise levels are affecting my friends and myself but sometimes I wish we could at least coordinate all of our noises so we could all exist in harmony together.

– Lee Ann DiSalvia McWeeney, MS-CCC(SLP)


No living animals have captured our imaginations as have the great whales… They fire our imaginations and stab at our emotions. They inspire our art, literature, and music. And so they should. The indescribable blend of grace, power, and beauty of a whale as it glides underwater, leaps toward the sky, or simply lifts its flukes and slides into the sea symbolises a vanishing poetry of the wild.

– Dr. James Darling, With The Whales

Pod of 60 beluga whales recorded in St. Lawrence, Canada. Sound courtesy of Peter Scheifele, Department of Animal Science at University of Connecticut.