Beluga whales are fascinating aquatic mammals. I’ve always been fascinated by beluga whales as a child and I have many stories of encountering beluga whales with my family when I was a toddler. I chose to explore the records of Beluga whales in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History database. Before I explain the information and data that I’ve found, I found this assignment really challenging. Mostly with finding the right database for this research. I think I was overthinking about the assignment but I found the data interesting and thought that I should share the information of this particular beluga whale from this database.

I found a record of a Beluga whale specimen (Catalog Number: USNM 571021) collected on April 1, 1987, from Carrying Place Cove, 2 or 3 miles from Lubec Lighthouse in Maine, USA. The specimen was collected by S. A. Rommel and is part of the Whale Collection special collection. The record provides information on the specimen’s identification, collection date, location, and collector. The specimen was identified as Delphinapterus leucas (Pallas, 1776), and it is a male individual. The specimen’s total length was measured to be 399 cm, and its reproductive condition was also recorded. The specimen’s testis on the right side had a diameter of 32 mm, and its length and width were measured to be 200 mm and 80 mm, respectively. The specimen’s preparation details were also recorded, indicating that its skeleton and skull were preserved.

The record also provides geographical information about the specimen’s collection location. The centroid latitude and longitude of the collection location were recorded as 44.8 and -66.95, respectively. This information can be used to understand the distribution of Beluga whales in the North Atlantic Ocean and to analyze the specimen’s collection location’s environmental conditions. The record provides a detailed description of the specimen, including its identification, collection details, reproductive condition, and preparation details. The geographical information provided in the record also helps to understand the specimen’s collection location in relation to the species’ expected range.

If I were holding a living Beluga whale in my hand, I could collect metadata such as its physical characteristics, such as length, weight, and color, as well as its behavior, such as feeding habits, social structure, and habitat use. However, it is not appropriate for a museum to house living individuals due to ethical concerns and logistical challenges. Instead, museums may collect and preserve biological samples from living individuals for scientific research.

If I were holding a dead and preserved Beluga whale in my hand, I could collect metadata such as the date and location of collection, the collector’s name, and the preservation method used. Museums may house dead and preserved individuals for research, education, and exhibition purposes. In addition to the metadata mentioned above, museums may also collect information on the specimen’s anatomy, morphology, and pathology, as well as conduct genetic and molecular analyses.

Exploring existing museum data about a species can provide valuable information about the species’ distribution, behavior, and morphology. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History database provides detailed records of specimens that can be used for scientific research and educational purposes. I found the information on the Beluga whale specimen in the database to be comprehensive and informative, providing a glimpse into the species’ natural history.

Beluga Whale – World Animals News 2021

Question: What museum database would you recommend to use for researching a particular species of interest, and why do you think that database is the best option?

(The reason why I ask this was because I was very flustered with the amount of other databases I’ve seen and encountered. So I’m curious of what you all recommend of other museum and archival databases you encountered.)

3 Thoughts to “Explore existing museum data about a species: Beluga Whales”

  1. Maxine Laberge

    Hi Hannah, thanks for this post on Beluga’s! I would love to hear more about your encounters with them.

    I also found the amount of information a little overwhelming. I could have easily spent several hours searching for “just the right” place for information but in order to keep things simple I stuck with Arctos. I don’t have any formal science background so I find databases to be a little difficult to navigate. There is so much information it’s hard to narrow it down. i.e If I want to study Brown Bears how do I avoid getting thousands of heart tissue results?

  2. Arianna Wyanski

    I feel your pain, I was also very confused and flustered about the amount of information in these databases, which is why I essentially just threw a dart on a map and went with whatever it landed on. I still don’t know if I did this assignment correctly. I think that the only way to truly find one that isn’t confusing might just have to be through trial and error.

  3. Korovin Ellis

    I think it depends a lot on how rare your species is, and good you are at navigating these databases. For species with very narrow geographical ranges its probably a lot easier, since the best database should be within that area. Otherwise you probably want to focus on big name databases and hope for the best.

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