Beluga Sturgeon Scientific Classification
KingdomAnimaliaPhylumChordataClassActinopterygiiOrderAcipenseriformesFamilyAcipenseridaeGenusHusoScientific NameHuso huso
Beluga Sturgeon Conservation Status
Beluga Sturgeon Locations
Beluga Sturgeon Facts
Fun FactThe beluga sturgeon is one of the largest bony fish in the world!Estimated Population SizeUnknownBiggest ThreatOverfishingMost Distinctive FeatureThe bony armorOther Name(s)Great sturgeonGestation PeriodA few daysWater typeSaltwaterHabitatRivers, estuaries, and seasDietCarnivoreTypeFishCommon NameBeluga
Beluga Sturgeon Physical Characteristics
- Dark Brown
Skin TypeSkinLifespanMore than 50 yearsWeightUp to 3,500 poundsLengthUp to 20 feet
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Well-adapted to life in the Caspian and Black Seas, the beluga sturgeon is a truly impressive spectacle of size and power.
As one of the largest bony fish in the world, this species has no known natural predators anywhere in its native habitat. However, the degradation of the Caspian Sea from unregulated fishing and industry has led to its inevitable decline. It is now at risk of complete extinction.
5 Incredible Beluga Facts!
- Both the beluga sturgeon and the Arctic beluga whale have the same name that comes from the Russian word belaya, meaning white. Interestingly, this is also the origin of the country name Belarus, meaning literally Whit Rus (Russia). The species also goes by the name of the great sturgeon.
- Evolving more than 200 million years ago, the sturgeon is one of the most “primitive” types of bony fish still currently living. In this case, primitive doesn’t mean a lack of sophistication or development, but it instead refers to the earlier stage of its development in time. Both their body structure and the presence of armored plates are testament to their ancient lineage.
- Despites its size, the beluga fish is actually a rather shy creature that always seems to avoid contact with people.
- One of the more interesting facts is that the beluga sturgeon is a fish that has been hunted as a food for the quality of its eggs since at least 1,100 BC. Roe is a term that refers to any fish eggs in general. Caviar, by contrast, refers specifically to the internal eggs of any sturgeon species that lives in the Caspian and Black Seas.
- The beluga sturgeon is one of the biggest fish in the world.
Beluga Scientific Name
The scientific name of the beluga is Huso huso. This appears to derive from an Old German word meaning skull, possibly in reference to the large armored head. The only other member of the genus is the kaluga or the river beluga, which is perhaps the largest freshwater fish in the world. Both species belong to the family of sturgeons known as Acipenseridae. Other related species include the white sturgeon, the short-nose sturgeon, and the green sturgeon.
Like many other species of sturgeons, the beluga is a fish with a long and big body with a rounded “hump,” a series of bony external plates along the side and top, and a big asymmetric tail that’s almost shark-like in appearance. The long “snout” sticking out from the face contains a pair of whisker-like barbels (similar to the ones found in catfish) that serve the purpose of providing information about the surrounding environment. This helps it find prey in the water.
The adult sturgeon fish is white, blue, and gray in color. Weighing up to 3,500 pounds (and stretching almost 20 feet), the beluga is the third largest living species of bony fish in the world. Few other species can compare to its formidable size. It’s almost as big as a modern pickup truck.
Beluga Distribution, Population, and Habitat
The beluga sturgeon is mostly home to the Caspian Sea. Split between the countries of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran in Central Asia, this gigantic body of water is the largest inland sea in the world. It is fed by more than 100 rivers, including the mighty Volga, which runs all the way north of Moscow. The beluga is also endemic to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov between Turkey and Russia.
This species has adapted to routine life in both freshwater rivers and saltwater areas. It spends the majority of its life near the sea coast and then moves upriver in the spawning season to produce offspring. The technical term for this type of lifestyle is euryhaline, meaning it can tolerate a range of different salinities.
Beluga Predators and Prey
The beluga sturgeon is one of the few sturgeon species that consume other types of fish. It patrols the middle depths of the water, preying on the flounder, gobies, anchovies, roach, herring, and whatever other species of fish happen to be available at the time. Because of its size and strong armor, the adult beluga sturgeon has no natural predators except, of course, for humans (though larvae may be picked off by other fish). Because of the premium placed on the eggs of the beluga, it is hunted relentlessly throughout the region.
Overfishing, combined with pollution and habitat loss from industry and dams, has nearly driven this species to extinction. Despite receiving some limited protection by local governments, the beluga’s decline continues almost unabated. This critically endangered species is now completely gone from many parts of its former range.
Beluga Reproduction and Lifespan
Beluga sturgeon races can be divided by the season in which they spawn: either winter or the spring. When it is ready to spawn, the beluga begins to move inland through the estuaries and rivers. Some individuals will travel more than a thousand miles up the Danube, Volga, or other nearby rivers to spawn.
Like many species of fish, the beluga reproduces externally. This is accomplished when the male and female release their eggs and sperm (usually more than a million of them) separately into the water. If the conditions aren’t suitable for spawning, then the female can choose to reabsorb the eggs and try again later. Because of their picky nature, females only reproduce every four to eight years on average.
The juveniles emerge from the eggs after a short time later with a rather thin and small body. By the time they reach the sea (usually around May or June), they are still only a few inches in size. In order to grow, the sturgeon has a very long development time and lifespan, most of which is spent alone. It will only achieve full sexual maturity at between six and 25 years of age.
The life expectancy of a beluga is usually at least 50 years in the wild, but it is almost always caught and killed by fishers before it can die of natural causes. If it does somehow manage to evade human capture, the sturgeon lifespan is truly prolific. One specimen was once observed to live for more than a century.
Beluga in Fishing and Cooking
To the detriment of this species, the beluga sturgeon is one of the most highly desired catches in the entire world. They are usually quite easy to catch upriver by net or harpoon because of the predictable nature of their spawning.
The beluga does have edible meat that tastes similar to the swordfish, but that isn’t the main reason why it’s caught. Instead, the beluga’s caviar is considered to be a food delicacy around the world. It is sometimes worth as much as $3,500 per pound. Because of the amount of eggs produce by a single female, the beluga sturgeon is a very valuable species.
It is not entirely known how many are caught each year, but it is more than enough to reduce population numbers. Because fishers sometimes can’t distinguish between males and females, both sexes are caught up in the bloodletting. In order to have any hopes of rehabilitating this species, something would need to be done about the international caviar trade.