Cover Photo Source.
By: Kira Krall
The Arctic is a tough place for any animal during the winter. Birds, bears, and most marine life flee the temperatures that drop well below -50 °F. One of the most famous residents includes the beluga whale. Some populations are known to brave the winter long after most other arctic animals have gone. However, their life histories vary depending on their family. Belugas, just like orca whales and bottlenose dolphins, live mostly in family groups called pods. There are populations all across their range, some of which rarely leave the waters they call home. The Hudson Bay population spends summers near the land and the winters in the deep water of the Bay. Arctic populations usually migrate south to escape the winter.
Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t time the trip correctly and become trapped by miles of sea ice. They can survive for months on their fat stores but must find a place to breathe. They have a spectacular behavioral adaptation that saves them from drowning: they keep the sea ice from
forming with their bodies!
Even though most of the Arctic belugas migrate, water temperatures can still be as low as 14 °F. The secret to keeping warm lies mostly in the marine mammal’s anatomy. By having small pectoral fins and tail fluke, belugas have a reduced surface area and lose minimal heat through these thin body parts. The rest of their body is large and in charge with a thick blubber layer. Their body style also helps insulate them against cold deep water temperatures. Belugas have been recorded diving over 1,100 feet below the surface on hunting drips.
This low surface area, high volume, and thick fat layer are what keep other large arctic animals like polar bears and walruses warm. The reverse is true for desert-dwelling animals. High surface area and low volume (i.e., small body size) allow heat to release from the animal’s body. Just ask the fennec fox about this effective combination!