Beluga whales live near the top of the food chain in the Arctic ocean. Belugas, also called white whales because of their white skin, eat small species of fish and crustaceans, such as salmon, smelt, herring, Arctic and polar cod, shrimp, crabs, mollusks and marine worms. Belugas, in turn, are preyed upon by killer whales, polar bears and humans.
Recognizable for the distinctive rounded appearance of its head, called a melon, the beluga is a strongly social and vocal animal who lives in social groups called pods. Beluga whale health equates to the overall health of the ocean, and both climate change and environmental pollution levels threaten it. Elevated levels of contaminants such as heavy metals, plastics, pesticides and industrial chemicals can be found concentrated in the blubber, liver, and kidneys of belugas. The World Wildlife Fund Canada explains that some beluga whales living near the mouth of the St. Lawrence river were so contaminated that their carcasses were categorized as hazardous toxic waste.
Belugas, like polar bears, are dependent on sea ice for their existence, so they are vulnerable to climate change. Many beluga populations are migratory, moving south as ice builds up in the fall, and moving north during the summer, when ice breaks up. The belugas also serve an important cultural role for native people, such as the Inuit.