Beluga whale’s squishy head explained

A TikTok video became viral in the last couple of days. In this video, you can see a person pressing their hand on a beluga whale’s squishy head. The video had a lot of people enraged because they believed the person was mistreating the whale by pressing on its brain. We decided to write this post to debunk the myth about the beluga’s head. The squishy part is not the brain. It is the melon.

A melon in a head?

So what is a melon? It is an organ that looks like a pocket filled with fat. Its function is to direct and/or change the frequency of the whale’s sound waves. It basically acts as a lens for better communication and echolocation. Echolocation or biosonar is the ability to project sound and listen to its echoes to visualize your surroundings. Cetaceans use echolocation to feed, travel, and communicate. Beluga whales are famous for being masters at echolocation. They can wiggle and change the shape of their melon at will to direct sound. They are famously called “the canaries of the seas” because they are one of the most vocal species.

Squishy squishy …

The melon contains oil and wax. This is why it looks so squishy. A beluga’s brain, however, is well protected and located inside their skull, as you can see in the image below. No risk to the brain then, if you press on the melon. However, you should absolutely not be pressing this hard on a whale’s head.

Beluga head anatomy
Illustration by Uko Gorter – © NOAA

Although the beluga in the viral TikTok video did not suffer brain damage during the recording of the clip, we would like to state that we do not support captivity when it is only for entertainment purposes. When possible, beluga whales should live with their pods, free, in the wide Arctic Ocean.

If you are curious about beluga whales, check out our post about Hvaldimir, the beluga Russian spy.

Thank you for reading. Let us know what you think about this post down below.

Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.

3 thoughts on “Beluga whale’s squishy head explained”

  1. One of my favorite cetaceans!

    This article explains the belugas’ unique and squishy melon.

    Living in the Arctic Ocean and its nearby seas in the Northern Hemisphere. They are common to many regions of Alaska, as well as Russia, Canada, and Greenland. Belugas are usually found in shallow coastal waters during the summer months where the visibility is near zero. They can shape-shift their melon side-to-side making an acoustic lens to “see” with a larger radius in front of them. Also, unlike other cetaceans they have the ability to bend their necks in all directions for echolocation.

    I’ll never forget years ago getting to observe belugas in captivity. I stood up in a submerged box so I could be eye-to-eye with them. Three belugas popped up right next to me. I was so startled for some reason I gave them a “spit water” signal I use to use for training bottlenose dolphins in HI. I quickly discovered the signal I gave them was to move their melons from side-to-side. So, I had 3 belugas in synchrony moving their melons back and forth. Wow!

    Then I was allowed to touch and push my finger into their melon as they were vocalizing in air that sounded like they were giggling. The impression of my finger stayed for short time in the melon then it disappeared. I couldn’t stop thinking of the Pillsbury Doughboy commercial.

    It was such an amazing experience observing this very cool adaptation belugas have that I’ll never forget…

    Anyway, thought I’d share this with my FB friends.

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