beluga (bəlōˈgə) [key] or white whale, small, toothed northern whale, Delphinapterus leucas. The beluga may reach a length of 19 ft (5.8 m) and a weight of 4,400 lb (2,000 kg). It has a small, round head, with a short, broad, beaklike snout, and a flexible neck; its flippers are short, broad, and rounded, and it lacks a dorsal fin. It produces a variety of noises and is sometimes called a sea canary. The young are born with dark fur but become almost pure white in maturity. Belugas winter in the Arctic Ocean, feeding upon crustaceans, fish, and squid; they are often found in groups of several hundred individuals. They mate in spring, and in summer they enter northern rivers. The young are born after a gestation period of 14 months, one calf every second year. The beluga is hunted by the Eskimo for food and by commercial whalers for its hide, which is known as porpoise hide. Beluga is also the common name of the largest of the sturgeons. Beluga whales are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Cetacea, family Monodontidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.