• Status
    Near Threatened
  • Population
    over 150,000
  • Scientific Name
    Delphinapterus leucas
  • Weight
    1500-3500 pounds (up to 1.5 tons)
  • Length
    8.5 to 22 feet
  • Habitats

Belugas are extremely sociable mammals that live, hunt and migrate together in pods, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales. Their bulbous forehead, called a "melon”, is flexible and capable of changing shape. This allows them to make different facial expressions. Belugas can produce a series of chirps, clicks, whistles and squeals, which give the beluga its other name, "the canary of the sea." They may sound like music or even nonsense to us, but to fellow belugas they convey important information.

Many populations of belugas migrate as the sea ice changes in the Arctic. They move south in the fall as the ice forms and then return to feed again in the spring, as the ice breaks up. They can also be found near river mouths, and sometimes even venture up river. Belugas feed on a variety of fish species, such as salmon and herring, as well as shrimp, crabs and mollusks.

Working together to better understand Alaska’s beluga whales

WWF worked with Kotlik and Emmonak community members using hydrophones to capture audio of beluga whales underwater. The goal is to better understand beluga behavior in freshwater and ensure these marine mammals are protected.

Beluga above surface

Why They Matter

  • Whales, like the beluga, are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Beluga whales are also culturally important to indigenous communities in the Arctic. Like polar bears, the beluga depends on sea ice for its existence and can be directly impacted by climate change.


  • Population over 150,000
  • Extinction Risk Near Threatened
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Beluga Whale

Climate Change

Thousands of years of evolution have prepared Arctic species like the polar bear, walrus and beluga for life on and around the sea ice. Because of climate change, that ice cover has been changing rapidly, in both extent and thickness, and shrinking far too quickly for these species to adapt. A beluga’s entire life is connected to sea ice, both as a place to feed and a place to take refuge. Slow swimming beluga whales rely on sea ice as a place to hide from predators like orcas.

Oil and Gas Development

Vessels that support oil and gas development mean increased shipping in sensitive areas. Increased shipping means more noise that can mask communications for many Arctic marine species and it increases the potential for collisions with marine mammals, especially whales. It also brings more pollution and a greater possibility of oil or fuel spills.

Ocean Noise

Shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction and military activities cause underwater noise pollution. Since whales depend on sound to communicate, any interference by noise pollution can negatively affect their ability to find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young.

What WWF Is Doing

beluga whale

In the Arctic, WWF is working to influence shipping guidelines that will protect marine animals, such as beluga whales. We are advocating for better oil spill prevention and response measures.

Monitoring Whale Health

In the Beaufort Sea of Canada, WWF supported a community-based monitoring program of beluga health. This project was a collaboration between Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans and local communities.

Improving Whale Protection

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the body in charge of regulating whaling and addressing the vast number of other threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises in our oceans such as shipping, climate change, and bycatch. WWF is pushing to make the IWC more effective at reducing these threats that go beyond whaling.

Protecting whales from ocean noise

WWF partnered with Natural Resource Defense Council and Ocean Conservation Research to raise awareness of and address the threat of ocean noise on marine animals like the beluga. Our Don’t Be a Buckethead initiative shares the story of the many different Arctic marine species which depend on sound for survival and the harmful effects of underwater noise pollution.



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