A Beluga that Inspired a Generation

We couldn’t have Beluga Week without celebrating the person and the song that helped secure the beluga whale in the heart of millions of people around the world. Raffi and his hit song “Baby Beluga” still inspire children, as well as the generation of “beluga grads” who first heard his song when it was released in the early 80s. I had the pleasure of speaking to Raffi earlier this month – my 5 year old self could barely contain my excitement.

Raffi © 2015 Centre for Child Honouring
Raffi © 2015 Centre for Child Honouring

Raffi first fell in love with beluga whales while visiting the Vancouver Aquarium in 1979, when he laid eyes on a magnificent beluga named Kavna. Raffi intended to write a song about saving the whales, and upon meeting Kavna he decided to make a love song for the whales, since he understood that people would want to protect what they love.
“The beluga seemed like the perfect choice for the song, since belugas are known as the canaries of the sea. They are among the most loquacious of whales. The recording of “Baby Beluga” includes some beluga sounds, both at the beginning and at the end of the song, giving it the feeling that it is a song from the sea.”

“Baby Beluga” deeply resonated with people, and today there are an estimated 20-40 million “Beluga grads” in North America. People like me who grew up listening to this song, and who now are bringing their own children to Raffi’s concerts, inspiring another generation.
Raffi hopes his songs remind us in some small way of our connection to nature. He believes it’s important to foster children’s inherent appreciation of the natural world so that they will want to protect it. Raffi himself has always had a deep love for nature.
“Even as a young kid I realized that nature is the great mystery of which we’re a part.”
He believes that education can help steward this natural appreciation, so that we don’t lose this as we grow older.
“I think all education today in one way or another must be about sustainability. We can teach that very simple concept to our children that when we have a sense of connection, not only to our ancestors, but to those who are to come, that we can do our best to live respecting ecology, our surroundings, and finding our place in the balance of nature.”

Raffi and Emily © Emily Giles
Raffi and Emily © Emily Giles

Today Raffi lives on Salt Spring Island, BC, and remains connected to nature through simple activities, like planting his own vegetable garden. He tries to live in a manner not to simply consume but to fulfil his real needs, and chooses non-toxic products with a view to sustainability. He makes these same sustainable choices as President of his company, Troubadour Music, as he does personally.
“Like I said in my 1979 song “All I Really Need” – “I need clean water for drinking, and clean air for breathing.” These are not frills, these are the basics of life. All my books and cd covers are printed with chlorine-free paper. Sustainability is the ethic that we all need to rally around. I think it’s a wonderful way to make the nature connection real for us, even for those of us who don’t spend a lot of time in the great outdoors.”
Raffi still follows stories of belugas in the wild, and was pleased to hear that plans to build an oil port in Cacouna, Quebec were dropped following a government recommendation to uplist the St. Lawrence beluga population from Threatened to Endangered status.
“It’s good that belugas can be a reminder for us of what’s precious and what we want to preserve in our world – including them.”
Before we ended our chat Raffi shared with me one final gem, and sang for me a new verse to Baby Beluga.
“This one is for all of the beluga grads!”

Now you’ve grown and you’re on your way,
Making waves in the boundless bay
With your shining light and your dreams alive
For the young you’ll have one day.
Grown-up beluga, grown-up beluga—
Sing a song of peace, sing with all your friends,
We need to hear you!

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