Beluga whales - Belugas are very popular because of their facial expressions. You can often meet them in great numbers in Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut.


The canaries of the seas. They live high up in the Arctic - but you can also meet a small group of them in Quebec.


Photo: Shutterstock/Maksimilian


The canaries of the seas. They live high up in the Arctic - but you can also meet a small group of them in Quebec.


Photo: Shutterstock/Maksimilian


Belugas are deemed very friendly and expressive. That is mostly due to their ability to freely move their heads and lips, giving them a wide range of facial expressions. They are also very communicative and playful.

From a human point of view, belugas are deemed the most likeable whales. That, however, is a problem for the belugas, because even now, in the 21st century, people think it’s a good idea to catch wild belugas, lock them into an aquarium for life and teach them stupid tricks.

And it’s not the fault of the beluga at all. The reason why we can relate to them so well is that they can move their lips and head and wrinkle their forehead. That offers a wide range of facial expressions, which makes humans assume to see smiles and the like.

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Belugas are also very peculiar when it comes to acoustics, which adds to the impression of them being constantly happy: They utter a great variety of whistling, squeaking and flute-like sounds, which are often even audible above the water or through the bulk of a ship. Calling them the “canaries of the sea” is the next degree of belittlement.

Belugas locked up in an aquarium are a sad and frustrating thing: Big animals locked in way too small pools, separated from their families, bored by foolish tricks and manically swimming around in circles. Just like for orcas, aquariums are no place for a beluga.

In the entire view belugas look a bit bulky and shapeless. Usually you will only see head and back.

To this, it’s not even that hard to see belugas in the wild, at least in some places. The big populations in the polar seas might be hard to reach, but some of them are true to their locations. For example, they can be visited all summer long in Manitoba and Quebec in Canada.

Wild belugas are curious, playful animals, which can be very active on the surface. They often approach boats and kayaks and sometimes even like to interact. They usually travel in groups of 5 to 20 animals. During summer, they can be seen in hundreds in bays and mouths of rivers.


Photo: Shutterstock/Yvette_Barnett

3 to 5 meters. Males are bigger than females. Maximum weight: 1 ton.


White or light yellow all over. Young animals are grey, getting lighter with age.


Rather shapeless body. Little head with a visible melon, short snout.


Visually unimpressive but noisy. No higher than one meter.


No fin but a well visible hump.


Slightly heart-shaped, sometimes with a blackish frame along the edges. With age, the fluke gets a more and more prominent shape.


Often curious and playful. They often approach boats and kayaks and sometimes even like to interact. Very active on the surface, but only rarely breaching.


Most of the time the pattern consists of several short breaths on the surface, then a deeper dive of about one minute.


Approximately 150.000 animals worldwide, endangered in some regions.


Photo: Shutterstock/Yvette_Barnett

Checklist BELUGAS

Belugas are hard to confuse with another whale because of their white color and their very expressive face. However, they are hard to spot when moving near ice.

Belugas prefer to stay in calm coastal waters, often in bays or estuaries, but almost never on the open sea. Usually they travel in groups of 5 to 20 animals, in estuaries not seldom also large groups with hundreds or thousands of animals. Due to their light color they are not to be confused, although not necessarily easy to recognize near the ice edge.

Belugas are usually very active at the surface. However, they hardly ever breach and rarely lift their fluke.

Belugas are rather slow swimmers who spend most of their time on the surface. Normally they make about 5 to 6 shallow dives per minute, then a slightly deeper one for about 1 minute.

The movements are quite flat, the head is well visible when ascending, followed only by a white hump, which appears briefly and disappears immediately. The fluke is hardly ever to be seen when diving.

Belugas are rather noticeable by their number and frequent spyhopping on the surface. Tail and flipper slapping can also be seen quite often. On the other hand, belugas hardly ever breach.


Photo: Oliver Dirr / whaletrips

Where and when BELUGAS

The easiest places to see belugas in summer are the north and east of Canada, mostly from Churchill, Manitoba and Tadoussac in Quebec.

Belugas are mainly at home in the Arctic Ocean and are usually found near the coast and close to the ice. They are rarely found far from the coast. Their migrations are short and depend above all on the extent of the ice.

In summer they often retreat into shallow fjords, bays and estuaries, often gathering hundreds or even thousands of animals in confined spaces. In winter they follow the loose pack-ice.

There are several resident populations, such as in the Cook Inlet, Alaska, and at St. Lawrence and Hudson Bay in Canada. The population in Alaska consists of only a few hundred animals and is threatened with extinction.

The populations in Canada, on the other hand, are largely stable and can best be observed in summer from Churchill, Manitoba (Hudson Bay) and Tadoussac, Quebec (St. Lawrence).

The belugas of the St. Lawrence are by far the most southern belugas worldwide. They are seen very reliably throughout summer from Tadoussac to Cap Gaspé. In many places you can also observe them very well from land – all you need is a little luck and patience.

Theoretical chances for beluga sightings can also be found off the coasts of Spitsbergen and Greenland, but here you are more likely during summer, when the ice and the belugas are much further north.

At several places in Quebec you can observe the belugas of the St. Lawrence very well from land.

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