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Species at Risk

Beluga (St. Lawrence population)

Delphinapterus leucas

What is the St. Lawrence Beluga?

Close-up of the head of a beluga
With its white skin and prominent forehead, it is easily recognizable among the other sea mammals.
© Parks Canada / N. Boisvert / (13) / 2002

The beluga is a mammal in the cetacean family. It is distinguished by its thick, white skin, its prominent, rounded forehead and the absence of a dorsal fin. It is assumed that these characteristics resulted from adaptation to the icy waters of the Arctic. The beluga is a toothed whale. Its size generally ranges from 3 to 4 metres. Calves are an average of 1.5 metres long at birth. When they are born, their skin is brown or slate grey. As they age their colour pales, becoming white when they are adults. One of the unique aspects of the beluga is that it has a very wide range of sounds that include barks, cackles, clicks, grunts and many others. That is where it got the nickname “sea canary”.

Species at Risk - Who Knew?

Belugas, in addition to their impressive vocal repertoire, can also emit ultrasonic sounds! The echo that comes back allows them to find prey, holes in the ice and even obstacles.

Where is the St. Lawrence Beluga found?

Belugas are generally found in the parts of the Arctic and sub-arctic seas that are only covered in ice during certain seasons. The St. Lawrence population is the farthest south on Earth. During the summer, the St. Lawrence beluga mainly stays in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay River Fjord, where it can find plenty of food. During the winter, it stays more in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.