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Illustration by Mercedes Minck

Say It with a Beluga Bauble Wobble

Melon shape is to belugas what expressive eyebrows are to people.

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Text by Marina Wang
Illustrations by Mercedes Minck

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Most whales are social creatures that rely on vocal and visual communication to share information with one another. Belugas are no exception. Like other whales, they lack the musculature to communicate through facial expressions—but they can move their melons.

Filled with blubber, a beluga’s melon, or the bulbous mass on its head, is squishy with good bounce. Similar to humans, belugas can contract specific muscles to jiggle their stores of fat. Changing the shape of their melons is important for echolocation and making distinct vocalizations, and whales trained in captivity can change the shape of their melons on command.

That had scientists wondering if changing the shape of the melon might be a form of nonverbal communication. In a new study, researchers from the University of Rhode Island documented the different melon shapes and what they may mean.

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Cite this Article:

Cite this Article: Marina Wang Mercedes Minck “Say It with a Beluga Bauble Wobble,” Hakai Magazine, May 30, 2024, accessed July 18th, 2024, https://hakaimagazine.com/videos-visuals/say-it-with-a-beluga-bauble-wobble/.


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