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Although males reaching close to 3500 pounds have been documented, the estimated average range is between 12-15 feet (3.7-4.6m) and 1600-2500 pounds in weight. Females are slightly smaller than the males with an average length of 11-13 feet and weight of 1100-2000 pounds. Calves at birth are approximately 5 feet in length and weigh about 150 pounds.
Beluga whales are found solely in the Northern Hemisphere and inhabit the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean and the subarctic regions. Belugas can be found in areas of Russia, Canada, Norway, Greenland, and Alaska.
Born a light brown to grey, the beluga’s white color does not appear until they reach maturity. A thick blubber layer creates a rounded body center which tapers towards the head and tail. On their distinctive head, belugas have a bulging melon located above the upper jaw and in front of the blowhole. They are able to change the shape of their melon at will which is used to create a variety of vocalizations. Beluga whales lack a dorsal fin on their back but instead have a dorsal ridge which assists in breaking ice.
Belugas can easily navigate shallow river mouths, enter estuaries (an area where fresh and salt water meet and mix) during molting seasons or dive to depths of 2600ft. However, they will typically follow the pack ice as it melts and freezes throughout the seasons.
Depending on prey availability, season, and the region, belugas have a varied diet that includes fish, squid, octopus, shrimp, crab, marine worms and large zooplankton. The gathered lips of the beluga allow the animal to spit a burst of water to uncover and suction prey. The peg like teeth of the beluga is used to capture prey to swallow whole, not to chew.
Natural predators of beluga whales include orcas (killer whales) and polar bears but the greatest threat is human impact.
A female beluga whale will become sexually mature around 5-7 years of age while a male is a little later at 8-9 years. Most breeding occurs from April to May but may start as early as February and end as late as June in some regions. Females are pregnant for approximately 15-16 months, with most calving occurring in late spring and early summer. The young beluga will be nursed for 2 years and a female will give birth every 2-4 years.
One of Mystic Aquarium's Beluga whale trainers answers some questions about the whales at Mystic and what it is like to work with them every day. Make sure to check out more about working with belugas under the video tab.
Q: How many whales are currently at Mystic Aquarium?
A: “There are currently three beluga whales in the Arctic Coast exhibit. One female, Kela and two males, Juno and Naluark."
Q: Can you tell the whales apart just by looking at them?
A: “Absolutely! Kela is the smallest whale and has dark gray markings along her sides and dorsal ridge. Juno, the youngest of the group, is lighter gray throughout his body and his melon sits further back on his head, has dark circles around his eyes and a notch on his mouth ”
Q: How can you tell the age of a beluga whale?
A: "Unless you know the date the animal was born, there is not an easy way to tell the age of a live animal. However, if you were to have the tooth of a beluga, you could slice it in half and count the rings. Scientists aren't exactly sure if it is one or two rings per year but it will give you a minimum age."
Q: What is the typical day of a beluga whale trainer?
A: “There is no such thing as a typical day. The fun thing about beluga whales is that you never know what your day is going to bring. You will start your day by preparing diets, cleaning exhibit, checking the animals, conducting training sessions and developing new training projects. But you are also responsible for naintaining behaviors, conducting programs for the public (like the train a whale program, whales up close and meet a beluga whale). You even have to make sure that the whales have plenty of enrichment by doing anything to alter their environment… dancing, playing music, using toys and trainer interaction. The end of every day is a recap of the beginning. On top of all that, staff will dive in the exhibit a couple of times per week just to make sure that the exhibit is as clean as it can be."
Q: What kind of behaviors can you teach the whales?
A: "We teach the whales a variety of behaviors for many reasons. We have husbandry behaviors like presenting their tail and lying still for a blood draw or keeping their mouths open so we can brush their teeth. There are educational behaviors to help the public learn more about the whales and their adaptations, something like a vocalization. We even have behaviors just for their physical and mental stimulation.”
Q: Do the belugas have different vocalizations for communication?
A: “The belugas have a variety of different vocalizations, that is how they earned their name of the sea canary. There are different sounds during breeding season, before a feed, when they are playing, or when they are echolocating.”
Born July 6, 2002 at Marineland Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Juno traveled to Sea World in 2006 where he lived until headed north to Mystic Aquarium in 2012 as part of a breeding loan program.
Juno is 11 feet long and as of January 2013 weighed close to 1600 pounds and is differentiated from his three exhibit mates by the gray circles around his eyes.
As one of the Aquarium’s most inquisitive and engaging animals, Juno is often seen interacting with visitors at the underwater viewing windows. In fact, most mornings before the aquarium opens members of the Whale Enrichment Team use a variety of enrichment items (artificial kelp, hula hoops, balls, etc.) to engage the whales. Below is Juno and Naluark checking out shark pool toy.
Species of the Month Podcast: How does a Beluga whale survive in the Arctic?
Join Mystic Aquarium's Kelly Matis and MaryEllen Mateleska for a fun five minutes devoted to February's featured species: the Beluga whale! In this podcast they discuss how the beluga whale can survive in the Arctic waters.
Kelly and MaryEllen want to hear from you! Send questions, comments and suggestions for future podcast topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scientific Name: Delphinapterus leucas
Size: African penguins range from 18 to 25 inches tall and weigh up to 11 pounds
Range/Distribution: The only penguin to breed in Africa, the African penguin ranges from Namibia to South Africa. Young penguins have been known to migrate north and west along the coastline and are found between Southern Angola, Namibia, and sometimes found off Gabon, Congo, and Mozambique, but generally reside in South Africa.
Appearance: The African penguin has a robust, torpedo-shaped body with black feathers on their back, flippers, and head while white feathers cover their front with the exception of horseshoe-shaped black stripe on the chest. Following the penguin’s first few molts a white stripe will develop around its cheek and throat. These birds have a bare patch above their eyes to assist with regulating their body temperature.
Habitat: When not hunting for food in the water, African penguins are found along rocky shores or brushy coastal areas.
Prey: African penguins feed on 25 species of fish, such as sardine and anchovy but also prey on squid and krill. A penguin may eat up to one pound of food or up to 14% of their weight.
Predators: African penguins face predation by gulls, feral cats and mongoose while nesting on land, while sharks and fur seals hunt African penguins in the water.
Life Span: The African penguin may live up to late 30 years in an aquarium or zoo but averages of 15-20 years are seen in the wild populations.
Mating Behaviors: There are no set breeding seasons for African penguins, however, most penguin pairs are monogamous and will remain together over several breeding years. The male will prepare a nest by digging a shallow burrow in sand or in brush using guano (penguin waste) and any materials nearby to complete the nest for the female to lay two eggs. Both the male and female share the nesting and chick duties, keeping the young safe from predators and warm temperatures. The chicks will hatch between 38 and 42 days and will leave the nest when they are between 60 to 130 days of age.
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