Explore by Animal

Beluga Whales

A beluga’s mouth is permanently upturned like a smile. It’s easy to connect with these sociable whales as they glide by in their Abbott Oceanarium pool: They might turn a curious gaze your way, crinkle their melons (foreheads) and whistle—or even spit a stream of water! The fact that these interactions are natural behaviors only makes the experience more fun.

Often called “canaries of the sea,” beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) broadcast squeals, trills, chirps and other sounds through their blowholes. Shedd Aquarium’s whales can even mimic the raspy, Darth Vader-like breathing sounds of the scuba divers who clean their habitat. These vocalizations can be communications between animals. They might also be used to echolocate, or interpret the sound waves that bounce back to discern what food or obstacles are ahead. Echolocation is especially useful for navigating dark waters and finding breathing holes in ice.

Belugas live in the frigid waters near the Arctic Circle. Two layers of blubber pad their stocky, cigar-shaped bodies to keep them warm. Even though adults can grow to 18 feet and weigh up to 3,300 pounds, their skin color, which is slate gray at birth and gradually becomes creamy white, invisibly blends them into their icy background.
Naturally sociable, belugas often chase or rub against one another.  They travel in pods of three to 10 whales. Calves imitate adults to learn life skills. One trait that raises the bar in their survival is a flexible neck. A beluga can turn and nod its head to find prey, including herring, octopus, squid, clams and crabs—up to 80 pounds of food a day. It will also spit a stream of water to uncover food on the sandy sea floor—or to surprise an aquarium guest!


Meet Nunavik

The beluga calf has a name! Read the update on our beluga calf page.

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