Capturing and Handling of White Whales (<i>Delphinapterus leucas</i>) in the Canadian Arctic for Instrumentation and Release

  • Jack R. Orr
  • Ricky Joe
  • Davidee Evic
Keywords: beluga, Delphinapterus leucas, capture, marine mammal, net, white whale


For many decades, humans have captured white whales (Delphinapterus leucas) for food, research, and public display, using a variety of techniques. The recent use of satellite-linked telemetry and pectoral flipper band tags to determine the movements and diving behaviour of these animals has required the live capture of a considerable number of belugas. Three principal techniques have been developed; their use depends on the clarity and depth of the water, tidal action, and bottom topography in the capture area. When the water is clear enough so that the whales can be seen swimming under the water and herded into shallow sandy areas, a hoop net is placed over the whale's head from an inflatable boat. When the water is murky and the belugas cannot easily be seen under the water, but can be herded into relatively shallow sandy areas, a seine net is deployed from a fast-moving boat to encircle them. If the whales are in deep water and cannot be herded into shallow water, a stationary net is set from shore to entangle them. Once captured, the whales have to be restrained in a way that allows them to breathe easily, have the tags attached, and be released as quickly as possible. The methods have proved to be safe, judging from the whales' rapid return to apparently normal behavioural patterns.