Beluga whales are glorious Arctic marine mammals whose ethereal, otherworldly appearance gives them a magical, mystical quality. Their alabaster skin has dubbed them “the white whale,” and the beluga’s rounded head and high-pitched underwater chatter have garnered other nicknames such as “melonhead” and “sea canary.”
Beluga whales are one of two remaining members of the Monodontidae whale species (at least four of their relatives are now extinct), the other being the narwhal, which has the look of an underwater unicorn.
But as fanciful as they appear, the beluga whale is authentic and needs proper sustenance to survive, procreate, feed their young, and thrive.
What Do Beluga Whales Eat?
Unlike the gargantuan blue whale, belugas have teeth, similar to narwhals and dolphins, and they are the most abundant toothed whale in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions where they dwell. They are opportunistic in their choices, so their staples can vary with the season and their location. The Arctic Ocean and its seas and coasts around Russia, Greenland, and North America are where most belugas call home.
The beluga whale’s diet consists largely of fish, and they play a crucial role in keeping the Arctic Ocean’s ecosystem healthy and balanced. Alaskan belugas tend to favor rich, fatty Coho salmon and various types of cod, the biggest being the saffron cod. Sole, smelt, herring, sculpin, flounder, and capelin also make up a large part of their nourishment.
Belugas consume large quantities of invertebrates, too — octopus, shrimp, crabs, sea snails, squid, and other deep-sea delights. Picture a cold-water fish market, and you’re likely to find the makings of a beluga whale’s veritable feast.
How Beluga Whales Hunt
Clearly, belugas enjoy a lot of range in their seafood diet. Their sleek body and flexible neck allow them to dive to the depths of the seabed to forage for food like shrimp, a favorite treat.
Belugas are Arctic animals, dwelling in the coldest climates, and require a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm and protected from the frozen north’s harsh elements. Therefore, they need to consume a lot to keep their bodily insulation.
They feed most heartily in the winter and early spring, slimming down and eating less in the autumn months. There is speculation that beluga whales do not hunt during their migrations or at least, not regularly. Both wild belugas and those in captivity consume up to 3% of their body weight daily.
As toothed whales, they are carnivores, but their teeth aren’t very sharp or large like orcas or sharks, and they don’t chew the way humans, most primates, and other omnivores do.
Belugas and dolphins use their teeth to catch fish and invertebrates and then swallow them whole, utilizing a handy suction method to bring their prey into their mouths and down the beluga’s throat. However, this technique is not without its dangers. Have you ever swallowed a bite that was too big and choked or gotten something stuck in your throat? That’s the risk they run.
Sadder still is that with pollution and debris floating in the ocean, as with all marine animals, hazardous, indigestible materials like plastic bags and other unnatural items can be consumed accidentally and caught in the beluga’s throat or belly.