Beluga whales are most commonly found in coastal waters of circumpolar, primarily arctic regions of the northern hemisphere. Some isolated populations however, extend into subarctic regions as far south as the St. Lawrence River of Canada.
Since belugas are extremely difficult to monitor, population sizes are known from only certain localities. Based on this information, it seems likely that the present total population is between 40,000 and 55,000 animals. The population in the St. Lawrence River has now declined to less than 500 whales.
Present hunting and exploitation rates indicate a further population decline, especially in eastern Canada and the Barents and White seas.
Throughout their distribution range belugas inhabit cold Arctic waters, living amongst pack ice in winter and in shallow bays and estuaries of large northern rivers in the summer.
Belugas are adapted to cold and ice and frequently inhabit areas where pack ice is common, although they are limited seasonally to areas where they can maintain breathing holes.
Of all toothed whales, belugas are clearly the most adapted to brackish, estuarine waters and travel up river mouths, often with the tide, for limited distances in search of food.
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