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Climate Spotlight: Beluga Whale

Featured image from: http://savenaturesavehuman.blogspot.com/2012/04/beluga-whale.html

If you placed a waterproof microphone in the Arctic Ocean, you might hear the squeaks and whistles of the “Sea Canary,” or Beluga Whale. This vocal marine mammal is completely white and is only found in Arctic and Sub-Arctic waters. Belugas are one of the smallest whales, growing to roughly 3000 pounds (1400 kg) and reaching fifteen feet (5 meters) in length. Compared to other whales, Belugas have a highly flexible neck, which allows them to turn their heads in a wide range of directions to spot predators such as killer whales or polar bears. Like other whales, belugas have a fatty layer of insulation known as blubber that keeps them warm and protects their organs from frigid Arctic temperatures.

Migrating beluga whales in the Chukchi Sea. Image from: http://marinesciencetoday.com/2017/01/17/climate-change-altering-some-beluga-whale-migration/
Migrating beluga whales in the Chukchi Sea. Image from: http://marinesciencetoday.com/2017/01/17/climate-change-altering-some-beluga-whale-migration/

Belugas are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and have been designated a “near threatened” species. Though climate change threatens Belugas, the most concerning factor impacting the Belugas environment is not rising temperatures or an acidified ocean, but increased human activity in the Arctic. As ice melts and opens channels through which ships may traverse the Arctic Ocean, the likelihood of Beluga deaths due to collisions with ships increases. Additionally, sound emitted by ship engines disrupts communication between whales. Ice loss and rising temperatures in the Arctic may also result in a shift of species toward the poles, which will compete with Arctic animals for food. Currently, it is unclear how or if belugas will be able to cope with the environmental impacts of climate change.

To learn more about Belugas, visit these links:

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/cetaceans/threats/climate_change/

https://insideclimatenews.org/species/mammals/beluga-whale

This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to ocean.tamu.edu and click On the Ocean.

Script Authors: Daria Mrugala and Alessandro Scinicariello

Contributing Professor: Dr. Lisa Campbell

Editor: James M. Fiorendino