"Baby Beluga in the Deep Blue Sea!" It is hard to get that old Raffi tune out of my head as I am writing this post. Beluga whales are fascinating and charismatic creatures. This recent research on them may be an interesting entry point to learning about this whale at school or home.
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Did you know that beluga whales blow bubbles from their blow holes? Not only do they blow bubbles, but they can control the types of bubbles they are blowing, and scientists now believe these different bubbles represent the mood of the animal!
It seemed odd for an animal that needs to hold its breath underwater to purposefully blow bubbles, so researchers were interested in getting to the bottom of the phenomenon. The research took place at Marineland of Canada in Niagara Falls, Ontario by a team of researchers from Canisius College. During the 8 year study they found that practically all the beluga whales blew bubbles in four source-shape combinations: blowhole drips, blowhole bursts, blowhole streams and mouth rings. The bubbles were produced by males and females, adults and juveniles.
|Beluga Whale at the Vancouver Aquarium
Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
"Blowhole bursts" are part of the beluga's startle response. These are produced most often by adult females, indicating that in nature they are more reactive than adult males. Juvenile males made this type of bubble more often than females and researchers believe that this is because they engage in rowdier levels of play than the females.
Although "blowhole streams" are a sign of aggression in humpback whales, the belugas exhibited this type of bubbling when they were swimming in a friendly manner side-by-side. The scientists found that some days the whales blew many bubbles and other days they did not. As the conditions of the aquarium were similar everyday, it seems very likely that the behavior is indicative of mood rather than environmental conditions.
|Beluga and Human Size Comparison
by Chris huh [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Imagine if we communicated with each other this way! There is a lot to learn about beluga whales. They are relatively small whales that live in shallow areas in arctic waters. It is the only species of whale that is known to be entirely white as an adult.
If you live in New England, you are not far from the largest outdoor beluga exhibit in the United States, at the Mystic Aquarium in CT. It would be difficult not to become instantly smitten with these friendly whales that come to see you as you approach their enclosure.
If you are unable to travel to an aquarium, check out the beluga cam from the Vancouver Aquarium! You might also want to check these books out for purchase or at the library: Beluga Whales: Animals of the Snow and Ice, Hello, Baby Beluga! (for early readers), and if you just can't get the song out of your head, like I can't, Baby Beluga, Raffi Songs to Read.
Learning Resources for Beluga Whales:
- Science Daily: "Belugas Blow Bubbles Based on Mood"
- Discovery Education: Whales Lesson Plan (grades 6-8)
- Meet the Mystic Aquarium Beluga Whales!
- Beluga AquaFacts from the Vancouver Aquarium
- Facts about Beluga Whales from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory
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