State Fossil of Vermont
Beluga Whale (common name)
Delphinapterus leucas (scientific name)
Delphinapterus leucas is a small, white, toothed whale. This species of marine mammal currently inhabits the Arctic, the northern Atlantic, and the northern Pacific oceans. At the end of the Pleistocene epoch, approximately 10,000 to 12,500 years ago, the beluga whale also lived in the Champlain Sea, which covered portions of present-day northeastern North America. Delphinapterus leucas is a member of the taxonomic order Cetacea, which includes dolphins and porpoises as well as whales. The family it belongs to,Monodontidae, has only one other member, the narwhal.
A STATE SYMBOL
In 1849, during construction of a railroad from Rutland to Burlington, Vermont, workers made a surprising discovery. Fossil bones of what was later identified as a beluga whale were found in the town of Charlotte, Vermont, near Lake Champlain but over 150 miles from an ocean. The bones now reside at the Perkins Geology Museum at the University of Vermont. This discovery furthered the understanding of the history, geology, and paleontology of the area, and specifically the past existence of the Champlain Sea. The designation of Delphinapterus leucas, locally called the Charlotte whale, as the Vermont state fossil in 1993 made Vermont the only state to adopt a fossil of an existing species.
The word beluga comes from the Russian words белуга (beluga) or белуха (belukha). These words are derived from the word белый (belyy), meaning "white." The word Delphinapterus comes from the Greek words δελφίνι (delfini), meaning "dolphin" and φτερό (ptero), which means "wing." German zoologist and botanist Peter Simon Pallas first described this whale in 1776.
Upon the discovery of the fossil bones in Vermont, the specimen was initially given the temporary scientific name Delphinus vermontanus.This name was changed to Delphinapterus leucas when its relationship to the living species was determined.
Delphinapterus leucas feeds on fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. It is a slow swimmer that also forages on the seafloor. Beluga whales live in packs called pods that hunt, play, and migrate together. Today, this marine mammal inhabits the arctic and subarctic oceans off the coasts of Canada, Greenland, and Russia.
The earliest known relative of Delphinapterus leucas lived in the late Miocene epoch, over five million years ago. Fossils of Delphinapterus leucas, as well as bivalve shells and other whale fossils, found in inland North America, provide evidence of the Champlain Sea, a temporary saltwater sea that was created by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The Champlain Sea covered portions of what are now New York, Vermont, Quebec, and Ontario, and connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Although beluga are protected by the International Whaling Commission, aboriginal subsistence whaling is permitted to some degree. Indigenous arctic peoples in Canada, western Greenland, and Alaska practice traditional subsistence whaling as they have done for centuries. This practice, as well as ocean pollution, whale watching, the popularity of keeping individuals in captivity, and disease have led to decreased beluga populations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently listsDelphinapterus leucas as "Near Threatened."
Since the early 19th century, there have been over 300 reported but unexplained sightings of a creature living in Lake Champlain. This lake straddles the state border between New York and Vermont, and Native Americans of the area depicted the creature centuries earlier. The creature has been described as green to dark brown in color, 15 to 50 feet (4.6 to 15.2 m) long, and snake-like with a long neck and long tail. Some have suggested that "Champ," as it is commonly known, could be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction, a prehistoric reptile that did the same, a primitive form of whale, or a large lake sturgeon.
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|Author: World Trade Press|