Beluga Whales Possibly Communicate and Interact By Changing the Shape of Their Forehead Melons

Beluga whales are instantly recognizable thanks to fat deposits on their foreheads known as “melons.” However, as it turns out, these melons are not only a physical feature; they also might be a tool for communication and interaction.

In a recent study published in the journal Animal Cognition, a team of researchers identified five distinct ways and positions in which belugas can move their melons: flat, pressed, lifted, shaken, and forward-titled.

It was already known to scientists that belugas can change the shape of their melons, but the study is the first one to identify them and provide context in which the change of shape occurs.

According to Justin Richard, animal behaviorist at the University of Rhode Island and co-author of the study, in 94% of cases, the shape changed when  belugas were in proximity of another member of their species. Richard, former beluga trainer, and his team concluded that the change of melon is reflection of the emotional state but are yet to determine whether belugas do it intentionally or not.

“Even as a trainer, I knew the shapes meant something,” Richard said in a chat with Science News. “But nobody had been able to put together enough observations to make sense of it.”

The researchers believe that the shake and press of the beluga’s melon might be connected with courtship, but other shapes have proved much harder to decipher. Still, they intend to continue their research in hopes of learning more about these fascinating animals.