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Humpback whale underwater

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Belugas may have changed eating habits to survive

According to a study by University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers, beluga whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet may have changed their diet over five decades from saltwater prey to freshwater fish and crustaceans in a bid to survive.

Information gained from the analysis beluga bone and teeth has shown that the belugas formerly fed on prey that had little contact with freshwater, but that has changed as the belugas have sought food in areas where river water flows into the ocean.

Researchers say that the change in feeding habits could even be linked to events, such as a change in herring abundance or even the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake.

Belugas normally feed on fish, crab, shrimp, squid and clams. This new information is important for the Cook Inlet belugas because they are endangered and numbers have not increased in recent times.

The population has dropped from 1,300 belugas through the 1980s and early 1990s. Alaskan Natives hunted and killed nearly half the remaining 650 whales between 1994 and 1998 but, despite the hunts ending in 1999, the population remains at only about 340 individuals.

Find out more about WDC’s sanctuary work for beluga whales and support our work.