Beluga Dolphin

Topics:belugas, Captivity Industry, Cetacean Habitat, Orcas, Russia, Whales

The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) of Earth Island Institute is one of the lead organizations coordinating global efforts on behalf of Russian whales and dolphins. We helped return the Whale Jail whales of Russia to the ocean and are now working to permanently ban such wild captures of whales and dolphins in Russian waters.

Beluga Dolphin Head

Born dark grey, with a bluish or brownish tinge that gets lighter with age, belugas turn pure white between 5 to 12 years of age. Beluga whales are unlike any other whale, dolphin or porpoise. A yellowish tinge can sometimes be seen on adult belugas, caused by a layer of algae growing on their skin. Beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins are related—they are both cetaceans, meaning they are in the whale family with orcas and narwhals. They are highly intelligent, social and vocal. The Dolphin & Beluga Course will enable a technician to conduct a correct inspection of the Avanti Service Lift before use and to operate the service lift during normal conditions as well as if a power shortage should happen.

The Russian fisheries agency recently indicated it would not issue any live capture permits for orcas or beluga whales for captivity in 2021 or 2022. This is a step in the right direction but is far from a permanent ban on live captures.


There is already some confusion over what the agency intends, so watch this space for updates.

On the brighter side, a member of the Russian Duma (Parliament) has introduced legislation that addresses the live captures, possibly including a permanent ban on such live captures of orcas, beluga whales, and other cetaceans. Still to be debated, the proposed legislation could be a vehicle for implementing a permanent ban if the Putin government does not take action.

Beluga Dolphin

Baby Beluga Dolphins

Conservationists spotted a pod of three young beluga whales near Vladivostok - seemingly the remaining individuals released from the notorious Whale Jail. Beluga whales do not range this far south normally, so we hope they travel north this summer to rejoin the rest of the beluga population in the Sea of Okhotsk. The fact that these three belugas made it through the toughest winter months in the wild suggests the likely survival of the other orcas and beluga whales that were released from the Whale Jail in 2019.

The Russian conservation community is working hard to obtain protection for their marine mammal heritage in Russian waters. IMMP will continue to help in any way we can in these important protection efforts.

Can you donate to support our work today? Your donations are important to help safeguard orcas and beluga whales in Russia and cetaceans around the world. Thank you!

Sea Canary

Family: Monodontidae
Genus: Delphinapterus
Species: D. leucas (Pallas, 1776)

Belugas, like all other whales, are warm-blooded animals with a body temperature very close to that of humans, and yet belugas have survived and adapted quite successfully in their icy, Arctic habitat. This is made possible in part by their thick layer of fat, or blubber, which acts as a thermal regulator, preventing body heat from escaping. The beluga, like the right whale and bowhead whale, has no dorsal fin, but rather a low dorsal ridge. A dorsal fin would seem to be a hindrance in a region where freeze-over is a common occurrence.

The many high-pitched squeals and chirps emitted by the beluga can be heard through the hulls of boats, and are the basis of their secondary name “sea canary”. They are among the most vocal of all cetaceans.

Physical Description: They are extremely stocky, fat animals with a disproportionately small head. The blowhole is set slightly to the left of the prominent forehead. They have a slight but discernible beak.

Color: Snow white overall. The young are brown with gray dorsal spots, turning gray and then white as they mature.

Fins and Flukes: A narrow ridge notched laterally to form a series of small bumps runs down the back in place of a dorsal fin. The short, wide flippers are often rounded at the tips. The broad flukes are very well developed, pointed, and swept back at their tips, with a definite median notch.

Length and Weight: They reach about 16 ft (5 m) and 2,400 lb (1,000 kg). Males grow slightly larger than females.

Teeth: 8 to 11 conical teeth are found in each side of the upper jaw; 8 to 9 in each side of the lower jaw.


Feeding: They feed on a wide spectrum of shallow-water organisms, such as decapod crustaceans, cephalopods, and schooling fish.

Breathing and Diving: They exhibit a variety of behaviors, including slow and rapid motion while swimming, and more dolphin-like breathing when they rise to the surface, blow, drop out of sight for up to a minute, and rise to blow again.

Mating and Breeding: Breeding season is June to August. Calves 5 ft (1.5 m) are born after a 14-month gestation period, followed by a 20-month lactation. Males reach sexual maturity at 9 years, females at about 5 years.

Herding: Normally less than a dozen, often in single file. During the southern migration, small herds join to form large ones often numbering several hundred animals.


Distribution: Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. These whales frequent shallow waters and estuarine regions.

Migration: There is a southern migration in autumn from the Arctic to Maritime Provinces for birthing and mating. They are regularly observed in the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers in late spring and summer. Sightings have occurred as far as 700 m (1,100 km) up the Yukon River and the St. Lawrence River to Quebec.

Natural History Notes: Belugas are thought to live 35 to 50 years.