A. Social structure.
1. Beluga whales live in groups called pods; a pod is a cohesive social unit.
a. A pod may consist of 2 to 25 individuals (Katona, Rough, and Richardson, 1983); the average pod size is about 10 (Nowak, 1991).
b. A pod generally consists of males and females (Slijper, 1979), though mothers with calves often form separate pods during the calving season (Haley, 1978). A single large male usually leads a pod (Nowak, 1991).
2. Several smaller pods may join occasionally to form larger groups of 200 to 10,000 individuals (Ridgway, 1972; Nowak, 1991). Such herds often form during migrations.
Several pods of beluga whales may join occasionally to form larger groups. (Photo by Flip Nicklin - Minden Pictures)
B. Social behavior.
1. Belugas are extremely social.
2. A pod of belugas hunts and migrates together.
3. Belugas may chase each other, either playfully or aggressively, and rub against each other (Sjare and Smith, 1986).
C. Individual behavior.
1. One of the most common beluga behaviors is vocalizing.
2. During calving season, adult belugas at sea have been observed carrying objects such as planks, a seine net, and even a caribou skeleton on their heads and backs. Female belugas in zoological habitats have also been observed carrying objects, such as floats or buoys, on their heads and backs after losing a newborn calf. Experts theorize that this interaction with objects may be surrogate behavior (Smith and Sleno, 1986).
3. Belugas exhibit a great deal of curiosity toward humans and often swim up to boats (Alaska Geographic Society, 1978).
4. Belugas do not exhibit as many aerial behaviors (jumping, breaching, etc.) as do dolphins and killer whales (Leatherwood and Reeves, 1983).
When swimming in shallow waters, belugas often become stranded at low tide. They generally survive until the next high tide and swim away unharmed (Ridgway and Harrison, 1981; Leatherwood and Reeves, 1983).
E. Interaction with other species.
1. The beluga whales' habitat overlaps with that of narwhals (Leatherwood and
2. Belugas often migrate with bowhead whales (Leatherwood and Reeves, 1983).
Diet and Eating Habits
SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Animal Information Database
www.seaworld.org / www.buschgardens.org
©2002 Busch Entertainment Corporation.
All Rights Reserved.