2016-06-02 / Nature

Wildlife Wednesdays Lecture Series

By Jack Kelly

Dr. Bob Kenney Dr. Bob Kenney “Belugas in the Bay” will be the season’s inaugural presentation of Wildlife Wednesdays, the summer lecture series of the Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island. The talk will be given on Wednesday, June 15, at 7 p.m. by Dr. Bob Kenney, a naturalist and marine biology researcher at the University of Rhode Island.

Beluga whales have been sighted in Narragansett Bay during the past two summers, and Kenney will explain the natural history and conservation of these wandering visitors from the north and the chances of sightings this summer.

Beluga whales are denizens of the Arctic Ocean and subarctic waters. The all-white whales are known colloquially as “melonheads” or “sea canaries” for their high-pitched twitter, and are favorites in aquariums across the U.S., Asia and Europe. The whale has a distinctive protuberance from its head which contains an echolocation organ called the “melon.” This anatomical feature allows the whales to move about and find blowholes under sheet ice in Arctic waters.

The average male beluga is about 18 feet long and weighs approximately 3,500 pounds, with most of the weight in blubber, while females tend to be smaller in length and weight. The whales are slow swimmers, but are capable of diving to 2,300 feet. They subsist on a diet of fish, crustaceans and other deep sea invertebrates. Belugas spend their winters in Arctic waters and under the polar ice cap, but when the ice melts in summer the whales meander south to warmer river estuaries and coastal areas.

In his 30-plus years of study and research, Kenney has been at the forefront of marine mammal research in local waters as well as in other regions of the North Atlantic and the Arctic. He infuses his presentations with humor and scientific facts, allowing all attendees to understand the complex life cycles of various marine mammals.

The lecture series will continue with different topics every Wednesday through Aug. 31. The 7 p.m. sessions will be held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s state headquarters, Kettle Pond Visitor’s Center, 50 Bend Road, Charlestown.

For directions or more information, contact Neil Anthes at USFWS, Kettle Pond Visitor’s Center, at 401- 364-9124 x 43.

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