Good news for beluga whales - SLIDESHOW + VIDEO

The slideshow above contains five images of beluga whales in their natural habitat. These photos were taken by Bettina van Elk, who for the past 15 years has volunteered her time to conduct the important research on this species funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).


Yesterday evening, the news hit my inbox that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA as it’s commonly known has denied a permit to The Georgia Aquarium to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales, some of which were to become permanent residents there. 

The US Government has not granted a permit for the import of wild-caught whales for more than twenty years.  For almost as long, IFAW has been working to protect belugas in the wild on the coast of the White Sea in Solovetsky, Russia.

Like other whale species worldwide, belugas face more threats today than ever before in history. So we felt cause for celebration late last month when, after years of research and advocacy work on behalf of these wild whales and their habitat, IFAW’s Moscow office received news that the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources intends to establish a protected habitat area at Solovetsky in connection with a nearby terrestrial Nature Reserve.

What the future holds for the 18 belugas captured for export is still unknown, but thanks to years of hard work by my IFAW Russia colleagues, leading scientists and committed volunteers, the beautiful belugas swimming around Solovetsky Island now have a fighting chance at survival for generations to come. 

Below are brief notes on this year’s field season in Solovetsky, where a volunteer from the Netherlands, Bettina van Elk has been giving of her time for the past 15 years helping collect important data about this beautiful species, the beluga.

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Notes on the 2013 White Sea field season from IFAW volunteer Bettina van Elk

The group of belugas who appear in these images number between 200 and  400 animals.

Some 25 new beluga calves are born each year. This year during our field season we observed six. New born babies are dark brown and then turn gray as they grow older before they take on the stunning white of the mature animals.

During this July’s field season, seven to nine males disappeared for mating. Beluga families are a matriacies in which the older females are in charge. The large group of animals is divided in subgroups and are most active during the day.

This year we had one spectacular viewing of 50 – 60 animals together in front of the IFAW observation tower.  We were lucky to have very nice weather that day.

  • The goal of the IFAW research at the moment is:
  • Creating a photo identification library
  • Gaining a more accurate estimate of the beluga population
  • Diagnosing and cataloging scars and illnesses among the animals
  • Monitoring and mitigating threats to the beluga whale nursery and ensuring its protection in the future.

The video above of a previous group of beluga was shot two years ago in the Solovetsky region.

For more information about our effort to protect whales around the world, visit our campaign pages.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation