Dmitry Glazov speaks about beluga training

Dmitry Glazov speaks about beluga training

5 March 2014

Question: How are beluga whales tamed? They aren't as nimble and active like dolphins, for example, which are easy to tame.


Dmitry Glazov: When speaking about sea mammals, we should use the word “train.” It is hard to make dolphins and seals, which move freely in the pool, do something against their will. They must want to do it. So, the work of a trainer is very important. He must find an approach to his ward, a key to its individual character. Only in this case will they show spectacular performances.


All animals that are used for entertainment are different. Dolphins are divided into many types that have something in common but are still different. They behave differently in the wild and have different potentialities and requirements – physiological, social and the like.


They have also different capabilities to adapt themselves to captivity – resilience to inevitable stress. Many aquariums keep bottle-nosed dolphins from the Black Sea, the Pacific and the Atlantic. They survive and breed well in captivity and are good performers. The Azov dolphin (harbor porpoise) and the white-bellied porpoise (common dolphin) cannot live in captivity – they are very susceptible to stress and die. Many species do not have enough room in a closed pool because they are used to covering enormous distances in a day. Others are very sociable and cannot live on their own or in small groups.


The ability of certain animals to adapt to captivity strongly depends on their life in the wild – whether they are socially dependent and can exist on their own. The conditions offered to them in captivity also matter – the depth and size of a pool, their diet and continuous contacts with humans.


Throughout the existence of dolphinariums people have selected those dolphins that can adapt to such conditions and can be easily trained. They understand what they are supposed to do. But there are not so many species like that – less than a dozen.


Beluga whales are among them. They spend almost the entire summer in shallow waters although they are big mammals. They often dry out during low tide in dirty shallow waters. They are slow-moving and they constantly socialise with their congeners. Unless frightened, beluga whales never swim fast and easily adapt to an enclosed space. They suffer the most from the stress of being caught, transportation and the need to eat frozen rather than live fish. These large mammals do not set records in swimming speed or jumps and look different than bottle-nosed dolphins in dolphinariums.


Beluga whales are usually caught when young (two to four years old). They adapt themselves better to captivity and are easier to transport. Belugas are physically stronger than small dolphins and can easily carry an adult person on their back while swimming in a pool. They do not jump as well as bottled-nose and other dolphins. To jump to a ball or a ring, a bottled-nose dolphin needs four to five metres to pick up speed, whereas a beluga needs at least six metres for this.