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FB Live Answers – Meet Juno

Special thanks to all who tuned into our Facebook Live on March 30. Find the answers to all our questions here!

Do they have teeth? And, if so, how many? Yes, belugas are a toothed whale, possessing 36 to 40 teeth total in both the upper and lower jawbones.

How long do whales live? Between 35- 40 years

How much do they eat per day? Currently Juno is eating approx. 90 pounds of restaurant quality fish every single day!

What do they eat? We feed our beluga whales a mixture of different restaurant quality fish – like capelin, herring and anchovies- as well as squid.

How do belugas handle the weather when it gets warm? Do you cool their water? Since belugas spend all of their time in the water, as long as the water stays cool they don’t have any issues with the warmer weather!   In additional to daily water quality testing to ensure the correct salinity, PH, etc. we chill the water to approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, we let the water temperature self-regulate.

Why are their eyes on the side of their head? Having their eyes on the sides of their heads helps them to see more areas of their environment!  And, since they are unable to rotate their heads due to a lack of fused vertebrae in their necks, they can just turn their heads if the need to see in front of them and “point” one eye in that direction!

How big do they get? An estimated average size for an adult male beluga is 12–15 feet (3.7–4.6 m) long,

weighing 1600–2500 pounds (725–1134 kg). Females average 11–13 feet (3.4–4.0 m) in length, weighing 1100-2000 pounds (499–907 kg)

How long to babies stay with their mothers?  Calves may remain with their mothers for 4–5 years or more.

How big do males get? Carter, age 7. An estimated average size for an adult male beluga is 12–15 feet (3.7–4.6 m) long, weighing 1600–2500 pounds (725–1134 kg)

How long are they? Jordan, age 8. Hi Jordan!  Both Kela and Natasha are approximately 11 feet in length and Juno is over 14 feet!

Do they live in other places beside the Arctic? No, belugas are found only in the Northern Hemisphere—in Arctic and subarctic waters. Belugas can be found as closely as Alaska and Canada. They are common to find in Russia, Norway and Greenland. 

Where did Juno come from? Juno was born at Marineland Canada in 2002

How fast can they swim? from Troy. Generally, belugas are slow swimmers, mostly swimming between 2–6 mph (3–9km).

Why is Juno so interested in strollers? And why does he swim upside down?  Juno is a very curious beluga and finds people and objects at our underwater viewing windows very enriching!  A stroller is just something that especially peaks his attention.  Maybe it’s the shape? Maybe it’s the tiny human inside of them that seem to give the biggest reaction to his antics at the windows? J  Belugas are a very small whale comparatively and they are pretty agile in the water.  Their small size allows them to swim in different orientations, including upside down.  We’re not sure why they do but it’s sure fun to see!

How old is Juno? Juno is 18 years old.

Do they have predators? Predators of beluga whales includes orcas and polar bears. But, possibly the largest threat to beluga population is humans. Beluga whale populations are exposed to a variety of stressors and threats, including pollution (e.g., heavy metals, chemicals, trash), shipping, energy exploration, commercial fishing, extreme weather events, and other types of human disturbance such as underwater noise.

Are they born knowing how to echolocate or do they have to learn? Echolocation is instinctual.

What is Juno’s favorite food? Zack, age 5. Belugas don’t really have a favorite food like we do but in the wild they eat a lot of different types of food (fish, clams, worms, and eels) because they never know when their next meal will come along!  Here at the aquarium we feed them a variety of fish as well!

Can belugas see or do they use echolocation to find where they are going? McKenzie, age 13. They use both! Belugas can see both above and below the water’s surface! 

Can he blow water from his blowhole? Mackenzie, age 7. That’s a great question Mackenzie!  Belugas don’t blow water from their blowholes!! When you see water coming from it when they breathe out (or exhale) it’s because there was water sitting on the surface of it!  The bigger the whale, the bigger the blowhole and the bigger the spray!  If a beluga (or any whale) got any water inside of its blowhole then it would drown just like we would if we got water in our lungs.  Belugas breathe from their blowholes and they lead right to their lungs!

Does he shoot water? We just trained him to spit over the windows during training sessions and now he does it frequently.  Belugas can hold up to a gallon of water in their mouths! This helps them in the wild when they are looking for food that lives under the mud like clams and mussels and worms.  They can spit it into the mud and uncover food buried there!

Are you scared they will bite you when you do a tongue pat?  No we are not!  And that’s because we work with them almost every day and we know them very well and they know us very well!  They really enjoy having their tongues pat and the trainers love to do it!

What happened to his mouth? We noticed a ‘boo boo’? Sometimes Juno gets small cuts or scrapes from playing with his pool mates or toys just like we sometimes bang into things and get small cuts or scrapes.  We have a wonderful veterinary team that is able to treat any “boo boo” that he might get and we are very lucky to have them!

How cold is the water? The water temperature varies depending on the time of year.  In the warmer months we chill it so it doesn’t get much warmer than 55-57 degrees Fahrenheit but in the winter we just let the cold air chill it as much as it can and this winter the water got down to 44 degrees Fahrenheit on really cold days! The belugas love it! The trainers, not so much!

How is the breeding program going? Mystic Aquarium does not actively participate in a beluga breeding program.

How long did it take to train Juno? Gia, age 16. Hi Gia! Good question.  It depends on what behavior we want to teach Juno!  He is a quick learner but sometimes if we are training a more complex behavior like a veterinary behavior it might take a few years to teach him something.  But something like a spin in the water he can learn pretty quickly in a matter of days or weeks!

Do they chew their food? No. They swallow it whole!

Can you swim in the enclosure? Mystic Aquarium does not permit any swim with the animal programs. Even our own divers, when cleaning the habitat, are separated from the belugas. We have a beluga encounter program, whereby guests can don waders and stand in the shallowest of the pools in the Arctic Coast habitat.

How hard is their bite? Belugas have a very powerful jaw!  This allows them to break open shells of things like clams and mussels to eat. 

How long is Juno’s tongue? This is a hard question to answer!  Belugas don’t have long tongues that they stick out like a seal or a sea lion would.  Their tongues are pretty flat but they are very wide and take up most of their bottom jaw.  Belugas use their tongues for nursing from their mothers when they are born!  They can curl them to create a water tight seal.  It’s really cool!

How far can they see? While the exact distance is not known, belugas do have good vision both above and below the water. They can focus in either air or water, an adaptation made possible by their specially adapted lens and cornea.

When is Juno’s birthday? Juno’s birthday is July 6, 2002.

Is Juno missing the guests? We believe he and the other belugas -Kela & Natasha, notice the difference with the Aquarium being closed.  We do planned enrichment throughout the day, every day (with all the animals) to ensure they are receiving the proper amount of engagement and stimulation. 

How do they swim? Keira, age 6. Belugas have tails that they pump up in down to swim through the water!  It acts like a paddle!

Why is he white?  The snowy white color of the adults acts like camouflage amid ice floes of the Arctic waters.  

Why does Juno eat so much? Our animals eat a diet that is based on a lot of factors, including their size.  Juno is a really big beluga weighing over 2,500 pounds so he needs a lot of calories to keep him healthy and full!

Do the whales talk to each other with their noises? They do! Belugas have their own language and sounds that mean different things to different belugas.  They can make a wide variety of sounds with their blowholes and they are known as the canaries of the sea because of it!

Are they color blind? We believe so. While belugas have both rod and cone cells in their eyes, they have only one type of cone; not the required two to distinguish colors.

How many belugas do you have and what are their names? We have three belugas – Kela, Natasha and Juno.

How do you provide medical care? We have a staff of 3 full time veterinarians as well as a full-time veterinary technician.  The training team works so closely with the animals that if we have a concern we can have our veterinarians come to examine them at any time of day or night if we need them to!  Also, our medical care is done voluntarily by the animals and we train proactively to make sure that we stay on top of their medical needs each and every day.  Every time we do a feeding or even if we just walk by the habitat, we take a look at the belugas (and all of our animals in fact) to make sure they look exactly the way they did the last time we saw them whether that was 5 minutes or 5 hours beforehand. 

How do whales communicate? Through the diverse sounds that they make through their blowholes that include whistles and other vocalizations. They can also communicate with body posturing and making sounds with their mouths called a jaw pop!

What animals are belugas are related to? Coming from the scientific order Cetacean, belugas are classified with all whales, dolphins and porpoises. There are two sub orders of cetaceans, belugas, coming from the Odontoceti order of toothed whales are also closely related to dolphins, porpoises, pilot whales, beaked whales, and bottlenose whales as well as the killer whale, sperm whales. There closest relative is the narwhal.

Has there been a baby beluga born at Mystic Aquarium? There have not been any belugas calves born here.

Do they jump out of the water? The don’t jump out of the water but they have a behavior called “spy hopping”, where they hold their heads out of the water kicking with its tail fluke to remain above the water line. This is done to see the environment above the water line.

Is it Juno or Juneau? It’s Juno

Is Juno a boy or a girl? Juno is a male.

Do you feed them every day? We sure do! Even on holidays!

Why do you pat their tongues? We have trained a tongue pat as a type of reinforcement so we can pat them on a tongue when they do a behavior that we’ve asked for rather than give them a fish each time.  This is another example of the variety we incorporate into their days.  Our belugas find it so reinforcing that sometimes, even when their training sessions are over and there is no more fish in their buckets, they still stick around with their trainers opening up their mouths and letting us pat their tongues!  This helps us to continue to build our relationships with them as well.

How does the water stay out of their eyes? They have specially adapted lens and cornea.

How do you know who’s who? They each have unique physical characteristics. Juno is the largest beluga so he is pretty easy to pick out!  Kela has a different coloration than Natasha, she is a more gray in color and has some darker spots on her body. 

How long can they hold their breath under water? Dives can last up to 18–20 minutes but most range between 9 and 18 minutes.

Do they have taste buds? Chemoreceptors on the base of a beluga’s tongue function in a similar way to taste buds. They allow the animal to detect chemicals suspended in water.

How much to they weigh? Molly, age 7. Hi Molly! Juno currently weighs 2,559 pounds.  Kela weighs 1,360 pounds, and Natasha weighs  1,080 pounds.

How many babies do they have at a time? Just one.

Do the whales interact with one another? They sure do! Belugas are very social animals and interact with each other through vocalizations.  At Mystic Aquarium we often see our belugas following each other around the habitat, especially during breeding season.  Younger animals are often found “playing” together in the wild as they grow and learn.

Do they live in groups? Belugas normally migrate, hunt and interact in groups and are rarely found alone. Belugas typically form groups called pods or schools, most often numbering from 2 to several dozen animals.

Do they breathe underwater? They do not. They are mammals just like you and me!  They must come up for air.

What do their noises mean? Although there is ongoing research on this topic, experts have not been able to fully understand the function of beluga noises.  They are believed to be related to social interaction during swimming, resting or stress situations.

How do they sleep? And how long do they usually sleep? Belugas can turn one half of their brain off at a time when they sleep, so one half is resting while the other half stays just awake enough to remind them when to breathe.  How long they sleep is very different for each whale, depending on how long they can rest for and what environment they are in.

How deep can they swim?  Belugas are capable of deep diving to over 1000m, with the deepest dive observed at 1160m; however, it is thought that most dives for belugas are much shallower with variation in different populations depending on location. 

Can they be black? Belugas are only gray or white depending on their age.

Can they change color? Not by way of camouflage but during their life cycle their skin changes color. Belugas are born a gray color but become whiter as they get older. The white coloration may provide camouflage among snow. The gray color serves the same purpose. Since a calf will swim beneath the mother for several years, the gray coloring allows them to appear more as a shadow.

Do they bond with each other or swim solo? Belugas typically form groups called pods or schools. The structure of the pods is ever-changing, with individuals moving between specific pods. Beluga pods can vary in structure and size seasonally.  Our belugas spend time together and also apart, depending on the time of year.

How often do they mate? Breeding season happens once a year and generally occurs in April and May.

How many noises do they make? It is unknown exactly how many noises they make but they are known as the canaries of the sea because of the wide range of sounds they can make.  Kela has been trained to make 15 different sounds on different cues!

Do they recognize you all and have different relationship with different trainers?  The belugas do recognize their trainers, mostly because of our uniforms but also in the way that we interact with them!  We all have a strong relationship with the belugas but some trainers might have a stronger one with an individual whale because of how long they have been working together.  For example, one of our trainers has been working with Kela for over 12 years!

What are the black spots? Kela has darker gray markings on her body which is just her color pattern. Every beluga’s skin looks different and has different markings just like humans do!

Are they endangered? Overall beluga whales are not endangered as a species but there are several critically endangered stocks of belugas like those in Cook Inlet, Alaska and St. Lawrence, Canada.

Do they live in a family? They live in groups called pods or schools. The structure of the pods is ever-changing, with individuals moving between specific pods. Beluga pods can vary in structure and size seasonally. 

Are they friendly to swim with? Our trainers don’t currently train our belugas to swim with us.  We do SCUBA dive with Natasha because she has been trained for this at another facility where she lived!

Who is Juno’s favorite? It depends on who you ask! 😊

Can whales get COVID-19? There is no evidence to suggest that marine mammals are susceptible to COVID-19. We remain in constant contact with our state, national, and international veterinary networks to monitor updates.

Do they tolerate penguins? Belugas and penguins are actually not found in the same locations in the wild! All penguin species are found south of the equator and belugas are found north of the equator!

What do they feel like? Belugas feel very smooth and rubbery.  We’ve been told by our guests that they feel like a rubber ball and a hard-boiled egg!

Are belugas friends with dolphins? Sophie, age 4.  Hi Sophie! That’s a good question! Did you know that beluga whales and dolphins don’t live in the same places in the wild? So they don’t have the change to be friends because they never see each other!

Do whales know how to dive? Yes! All whales dive and belugas can dive very deep or stay very shallow when hunting for food.

Why is their head shaped like a melon? It allows them to focus and project echolocation signals.

Who do they swim with in the wild?  Belugas generally are found in pods with other belugas but it wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary to find other animals that live in the Arctic nearby.

Do they have toys? At Mystic Aquarium we give them lots of enrichment each and every day!  Some of this takes the form of toys and some of it is other things like interacting with trainers or playing music for them!

Do they live in schools? They do!  A “school” of a beluga is called a pod!

Do all the whales at Mystic Aquarium swim upside down?  Yes. Belugas are a very small whale comparatively and they are pretty agile in the water.  Their small size allows them to swim in different orientations, including upside down.  We’re not sure why they do but it’s sure fun to see

How long have the been at Mystic Aquarium? Kela has been at Mystic Aquarium for nearly 26 years. Juno has been here for 10 years. Natasha has been here for just over a year.

Brayden (11) and Tyler (8) want to know if they are part of the bottlenose dolphin family or whale family? Both! The bottlenose dolphin and the beluga whale are members of the scientific order cetacean and sub order Odontoceti. They are known as a “toothed-whale”.

Damien, 9, wants to know why they are called belugas?  Great question Damien! The world beluga is derived from the Russian word meaning “white.” It’s pretty easy to see how they got that name when you look at them!

How big in the habitat? The Arctic Coast habitat is the largest outdoor whale in North America at over one-acre in size and holding 75,000 gallons of man-made saltwater.

How big are the belugas when they are born? They weigh between 136.7 and 196.2 lbs. (62–89kg) and male calves are approximately 5’ 1’’ (154 cm) long and females are 5’ 3” (yes, the females are longer at birth!)

Can they break through the ice if they are stuck beneath it? Yes they can! A beluga can either use its melon (the front part of it’s head) to break through the ice or they can arch their backs and use their dorsal ridge which is a very thick, tough area of hardened skin.

Do they like penguins? Molly, age 11. Hi Molly! Belugas and penguins are actually not found in the same locations in the wild! All penguin species are found south of the equator and belugas are found north of the equator!

How could someone become a volunteer? Visit our website for more information

Do they remember familiar faces forever?  A lot of work is being done on beluga cognition but there is so much more that scientists don’t understand…yet! We’re not sure about this but the belugas at Mystic Aquarium definitely recognize their current trainers!

Do they get aggressive with one another? Just like any other animal, including humans, belugas do have the capability to get aggressive.  This helps to defend themselves in the wild and also helps them catch their prey. 

Are they smarter than dolphins? That’s a hard question to answer because it’s so subjective.  Both beluga whales and dolphins are very smart but they are completely different animals and found in different areas of the world so it’s hard to compare them intellectually because they are adapted to survive in different areas.  Researchers do a lot of worked with trained dolphins and belugas at accredited zoos and aquariums around the world to find out more about how they learn and what their capacities for learning are.

Why are they so big? Belugas are actually one of the smallest species of whales!  Think about the grey whale or the right whale or even the blue whale!  Belugas are the size they are because the need to be able to move well around the harsh Arctic environment, underneath icebergs.  Here at Mystic Aquarium, Juno is the biggest whale because he is the male and males tend to be bigger than females!