The islands of Svalbard are characterised not only by an almost completely barren landscape, but also, as we know, by a wealth of fauna. Musk oxen, Arctic foxes and polar bears are just a few of the animals one can encounter on dry land. The sea is by no means less populated with unusual specimens: the depths are inhabited by approximately 19 species of marine mammals. In the midst of narwhals, seals, whales and walruses swims the friendly beluga whale, a cetacean which stands out for its formidable size. However, this is not the only particularity of the beluga, scientifically known as Delphinapterus leucas.
A white dolphin without a dorsal fin
The beluga is a white dolphin; despite being brown or grey-brown in colour immediately after birth, as time passes it tends to become ever-lighter, until it turns almost completely white at between 5 and 12 years of age. Male belugas are 5 and a half metres long, and weigh up to 1,600 kilos, while the females are approximately 4 metres in length for a maximum weight of “only” 1,200 kilos. This cetacean has a stocky, cylindrical body and large, angular fins, and is characterised by the absence of a dorsal fin. The possible reasons for this absence are varied, but the most widely-accepted theory is that it is an adaptation of the animal to the climate of the Svalbard region, in order to reduce the dispersion of body heat. For humans, the climate is not a problem. The brand Svalbard Islands has created the Nobile N1 adventure jacket, an urban-style jacket which is ready for any weather.
The playful nature of the beluga can be witnessed when the animal is captive, spontaneously interacting with humans by spraying them with small jets of water to attract their attention and persuade them to play. When, instead, it swims freely in the open sea, it loves to form large groups (up to 100 specimens), with the exception of females with their young, who prefer to move in smaller groups.
Jealous vocal animals which imitate humans
The beluga is so playful, it likes to emit strange sounds – something it does not do in normal situations – in order to imitate humans.
In fact, on recording the sounds made by a beluga known as Noc, which lived for years in the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, a group of researchers found that the rhythm and modulation of his voice was curiously similar to those of humans. Noc, in fact, filled his vestibular sacs to apply extreme pressure which lowered his “voice” by a couple of octaves.
But belugas also speak to ward off rivals in love. Jealously protective of their companions, males tend to raise their voices in the presence of potential suitors in order to mark their territory.
The beluga: particularly photogenic animals
The social nature of the beluga is even seen in the affection they display to those who observe them. This was the case at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, where one started making faces as though it were blowing kisses.
These peculiar animals are above all very respectful towards their partner; they only mate if the partner is consenting.