Beluga Whale, adult and calf (Monterey Bay Aquarium Collection by Safari Ltd.)

Review and images by callmejoe3; edited by bmathison1972

Today will be the blog’s first time covering the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), a charismatic arctic denizen. The beluga whale is the sole member of its genus, with the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) serving as its only extant relative within the family ‘’Monodontidae’’. Its name comes from the Russian word ‘’beloye/belyi’’, meaning ‘’white’’. The beluga whale lives in Arctic and Subarctic waters while choosing a wide variety of habitats such as deep ocean basins, coastal waters, open waters with loose ice, estuaries, and rivers. Like its distant relatives, the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops) and the killer whale (Orcinus orca), the beluga whale’s popularity with the public is the result of its legacy as a common attraction in aquariums and marine parks. In fact, the beluga whale was the first cetacean species in modern history to be placed in captivity; captive beluga whales debuted in 1861 at the Boston Aquarial Garden’s and Barnum’s American Museum. In captivity, the beluga whale caught the attention of many individuals due to its range of facial expressions that allow it to alter the shape of its lips and melon. Belugas also exhibit a wide vocal range of squeaks, clicks, chirps, and buzzes, earning its alternate name, ‘’the sea canary’’. They are even known to mimic human speech patterns. Most individuals range from 3- 4.8 meters in length and 500-1,300 kilograms in mass, with the males being larger than females. They have a maximum length and mass of 5.5 meters and 1.9 tons, respectively. The beluga’s IUCN status has been ‘’Least Concern’’ since 2017, with the Cook Inlet subpopulation declared ‘’Critically Endangered’’ since 2006. Possibly 200,000 individuals are thought to exist, though many populations remain
unsurveyed, leaving much uncertainty regarding their numbers and trends. Subsistence harvests of depleted subpopulations in Canada and Greenland remain the most concerning conservational threat. Live-capture operations for oceanarium trade continue in Russia. Belugas possess a varied diet of salmon, herring, halibut, cod, octopi, squid, crabs, shrimps, clams, mussels, marine worms, and large zooplankton. Genomic analysis on the skull of an unusual specimen confirmed the occurrence of hybridization with narwhals.

April 3rd, 2021: Updated photo to show off the MBA catalog page for this pair. By this point the original calf featured in this article was sold off and replaced

In 1990, Safari Ltd formed a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium similarly as they had previously done with the Carnegie Museum for a collaborative seal life lineup. Safari Ltd produce this line from the combined expertise of its professional sculptors and the aquarium’s marine biologists. This series is remembered well for its giant squid, cetaceans, and sharks. Most of these figures are fortunately still produced today. In 1991, the MBA line introduced a beluga whale mother and calf.

The adult figure measures approximately 210 millimeters long. At this length, it is not to scale with the larger whales in the MBA line, which are roughly in the 1:40 scale. This animal is closer to the 1:19-1:14 scale when compared to the typical range of an adult female. The base color is appropriately white, and the overall anatomy of the animal appears to be very accurate.

Along the dorsal side, both the shape of the head and placement of the blowholes appear to be anatomically correct. On the ventral body, the urogenital and mammary slits are visible and nicely sculpted, indicating that the whale is female. This feature is not too common on most cetacean figures today and is present on all of the adult cetaceans of the MBA line. All of them are female, save for the narwhal and pacific white-sided dolphin, the only two not paired with calves.

The one area where this figure falls short is in its dentition. The inside of the mouth is painted, though none of the teeth are sculpted. The mouth is an area where more modern figures released by Papo and CollectA surpass this one. It would have been wiser if this figure had its mouth closed.

Now as for the calf, its overall accuracy is on par with the adult. The grayer base color is true to the coloration of calves, and all the proportions fall in line. At approximately 115 millimeters with its neck relaxed, this figure fits more in the 1:14 size range to align with the average length of 1.5-1.6 meters for newborn calves; this would make the mother about 3 meters.

While this is not true for all calves in the MBA line, this beluga calf lacks genital slits. The particular paintjob my figure has bears black markings around the eyes that can prove distracting, though the majority if not all of the MBA figures have had revised paint jobs since their inception. It may be the case that there is a variant of this figure where these markings are absent. Otherwise, the calf holds up surprisingly well. (Update 4/3/2021, after some searching, I was able to locate other figures with the eye markings, but these are rare variants, most are like the one featured in the main image.)

Overall, I would say the MBA beluga whale and calf have aged fairly-well given being nearly 3 decades old. Luckily, the adult is among the figures in this series that are still in production and can be purchase by a variety of retailers. However, the beluga calf, like all the other cetacean calves in this line, has been discontinued. Acquiring the calf will require you to scower the internet for second-hand sellers. I would sooner recommend someone to purchase the more recent CollectA or Papo figures as they both feature more accurate dentition and more convenient sizes. Nonetheless, this figure is an easy recommendation for collectors who are prioritizing choosing from the MBA line for one reason or another.

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Comments 3

  • So after reviewing some images online for the calf, it seems the black markings around the eyes may not part of the original paint job and rather the result of use by the previous owner. I have yet to find another image of this calf online where the eyes are marked.

    • I was curious about those eye markings too – very un-Safari-like.

      While I am commenting on this topic, my beluga is the 2014 Papo model.

      Thanks for another wonderful review

      • My first impression of those eye marks was that they were some weird early variant like the original paintjob for the grey whale vs the later versions.

        Yeah, the Papo model looks great.

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