Why Are Beluga Whales Endangered?

Several factors threaten beluga whales, including a changing climate, noise from ocean vessels, commercial fishing practices, pollution and habitat destruction, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Like many threatened and endangered marine mammals, beluga whales face threats primarily from humans. The increasing encroachment of humans into whale territories also poses a threat to belugas, as the whales become injured, disoriented and killed through human recreational activities like boating and fishing, and from oil and gas production.

Beluga whales live in colder, Arctic waters around the world, including the Arctic Ocean and seas around Russia, Greenland and parts of North America. These whales have very thick skin, which makes fine leather when treated. Historically, belugas faced threats from illegal hunting and poaching, primarily for their fine skin. Native tribes in the Cook inlet hunted belugas for subsistence, although limitations on permissible beluga takes, imposed through laws and regulations, has reduced that threat.

Although some historical threats to belugas have disappeared, others take their place. Belugas, like many whales, communicate using a sonar system. Increasing shipping traffic and use of military vessels in their habitats hinders whales' communication, which in turn reduces their ability to navigate, find food and mates and raise young, as related by the World Wild Life Fund. Retreating glacial ice also threatens belugas, as they swim slowly and have historically relied on large ice floes as shelter from predators. As with other ocean creatures, belugas also face threats from oil spills and accumulating pollution.