Mystery Sea Creature

Last week’s column starred a mystery bird. This week I’m challenging you to guess a sea creature, one that played a trick on me and then gave me a cheeky smile. 

In the wild, Delphinapterus leucas lives in the cold Arctic and sub-Arctic, but my first encounter with her was at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. I had a notebook and pen in hand, because, well, I’m a writer and visiting stimulating places stirs my creative juices. 

I stood against a rail near the tank and was especially drawn to one creature. She was white-gray and smaller than the others. Since males are larger than females and the young are born gray and lighten in color as they age, I assumed my friend was a young female. “Belle,” as I nicknamed her, was definitely aware of me, too. 

Belle is about 5-feet, 3,000 pounds and has a dorsal ridge rather than a fin. Her curved tail fins, broad, short flippers, and soft, bulbous head fascinated me. I enjoyed watching her dive or roll lazily on her back.

The knob on Belle’s head, called a melon, can change shape. Her facial muscles move, creating human-like expressions, adding to her charisma. Belle’s melon is also used to direct and change the frequency of her sound waves. Her species got the nickname “sea canaries” because they communicate through clicks, screeches, and snorts, which you can hear on webcams.

As I watched Belle pass me for a third time, I thought about how our worlds were so different. I shudder at the thought of needing to navigate under chunks of Arctic ice. In the wild, she might need to break through Arctic ice to create breathing holes. She would risk becoming trapped by sea ice if she didn’t migrate south quickly enough. To "see" in the dark, she depends on sonar and must be cautious of predators including polar bears, orcas, and humans, who have hunted and exploited marine mammals like her.

Although Belle can swallow fish whole, she’s a gentle creature. As she swam past me for a fourth time, something tugged at my heart. I wondered at the circumstances that brought her here. Had she needed rehabilitation? How did she feel being in a tank instead of with her pod in the ocean? For such an intelligent creature, how did she keep herself entertained?

On Belle’s fifth round, my friend swam as close to me as possible, raised her tail, and cracked it down. Hard. The impact sent a flood of water my way, totally dousing me. My hair dripped, my nose dripped, my soggy notebook dripped. I quickly turned my head to the right to look at her. She rolled slightly on her side, her one visible eye focused on my face, and her mouth curled up at the ends. Yes, that sassy girl grinned at me.

Still drippy, I threw back my head and laughed.

Some people might doubt that our mystery marine creature, the beluga whale, planned this trick on me, but I know she did. Two beings of different worlds, experiencing vastly different lives, shared a moment. It’s one I’ll always treasure.

If you’d like to see highlights of beluga live-cams, check out For a fun encounter between a woman and a beluga, check out “Kelsey and Her Beluga Bestie,”

6 Replies to “Mystery Sea Creature”


How lucky are we that we have a place like the Shedd Aquarium! It is always worth it to take the time to try and imagine and relate to the life another species lives; you do that so well. Thank you for the reminders.

Thank you, Jane. I do love writing about animals, especially the human/animal relationships.
I appreciate your taking the time to read this.

I laughed too at the experience you described so vividly, Amy–you dripping, Belle grinning at you.
I always enjoy reading of your “connections” with nature and how you share your thoughts and feelings about those experiences; for example, wondering about Belle’s previous life and how she has adjusted to her present, much more confined, situation. Your empathy is so appealing. Thanks for sharing in this sweet article.

Yes, I do love writing about the human/animal connection. It delights and fascinates me.
Thanks for the reply, Gayle.


I love this story. Whales are very intelligent and i am sure Belle’s playfulness was intentional. She may have been sending you some love.

Hi Debbie,
Belle may have been sending me some love, or she might just have been being naughty. In either case, I wouldn’t have miss it.
Thanks for the reply,

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