The Naming of Things: Beluga Whale

2020 has taught us many things including the importance of appreciating the simple things in life, like a glass of good-enough wine, a strong and stable internet collection, and an uncomplicated naming story. To that end – the origin of the Beluga Whale’s name is, thankfully, short and sweet. 

If you know nothing else about belugas you probably still know that they’re white, which means you know the inspiration behind both their common and species name. Beluga comes from the Russian белуха, which derives from the word белый, which means “white”. Their species name leucas also means “white,” this time coming from the Greek λευκας (leukas). 

As for their genus name, Delphinapterus, part of it may look familiar to you because it’s a variation of the Greek δελφίν (delphin) which means “dolphin” and makes frequent appearances in many dolphin’s scientific names. The beluga though, is not a dolphin. It’s a toothed whale. BUT scientists didn’t always know that and when you add in the suffix of their genus, the Greek απτερος (apteros) which means “without a fin”, you end up with a scientific name that means “white dolphin without a fin” – which is a lot closer to being correct than some of the other names we’ve investigated in this blog.

So raise a glass to the white whale, and the end of 2020 – what a tale!

Image from Peppermint Narwhal Creative

Read our Beluga Whale stories here and don’t forget you can share your encounters of any whales, dolphin or porpoise species here.

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