Beluga Whale Research
As a leader in marine mammal conservation and research, Georgia Aquarium is committed to working with beluga whales both in our care and in their natural habitats. Together with members of the zoological community, our team works to understand factors threatening the sustainability of belugas in the wild so that steps can be taken to protect these animals.
By studying and observing beluga whales in human care, we are able to create baseline indicators to understand issues threatening this species in the wild. Through past research, we have gained insight into the effects of underwater sound levels on belugas, how they respond to increasing pathogens and changing water temperatures in the wild, and nutritional needs of belugas that face increasing challenges for food sources. Due to the remote locations and extreme climate inhabited by belugas, much of this research would be impossible to conduct in the wild.
In addition to research at Georgia Aquarium, our team has partnered with other facilities to conduct field research with beluga whales in Bristol Bay, Alaska, where the beluga population faces significant threats to their environment. Through the combination of our studies in human care and research in the wild, we can provide crucial information to the international scientific and conservation community.
Examples of our work with belugas in Alaska include:
- In 2008, we began our partnership with researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), Alaska SeaLife Center, and other leading institutions to study the health status, distribution and movements of beluga whales in the Nushagak River, a tributary of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Our research during this time benefitted from the safe handling methods developed at zoological facilities such as Georgia Aquarium.
- In 2011, our research focused on understanding the nutrition of belugas in Bristol Bay relative to the endangered population in Cook Inlet. Georgia Aquarium provided staff and sponsored research to study the diets of beluga whales, and tested for exposure to pollution that has caused long-term effects on beluga populations.
- In 2012, Georgia Aquarium animal experts spent two weeks studying the health status, hearing, distribution and movements of belugas in Bristol Bay. During this time, we worked with staff from universities, federal and state agencies, private veterinary firms and other accredited aquariums to conduct health exams of nine whales and fit each of these animals with a satellite tag to monitor their movements.
- In 2014, we expanded our research in the foraging techniques of beluga whales by studying biological sonar. Our experts partnered with other facilities to record the vocalization and echolocation of individual beluga whales in their attempts to locate and consume prey.
Through the research of beluga whales in both accredited U.S. facilities and in their natural environments, we are able to develop effective conservation, research and education programs that are essential to the survival and sustainability of belugas everywhere. Our studies not only enable us to advance the scientific knowledge of these incredible animals, but also to encourage conservation of belugas by educating and inspiring the public.