Your first task is to get to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Board the train and head north for many hours to Churchill, which is a city located on the great, Hudson Bay. Churchill is not only the polar bear capital of the world, but a beluga whale hot-spot. Bird watching is also an activity done there, and of course, you won’t want to miss the spectacular Northern Lights (see below).
Churchill has a population of about 1000 people. Churchill is polar bear country in the fall, but you want to go there in the summer to snorkel in the Churchill River, where beluga whales, better known as “sea canaries”, are on view. This tundra environment offers wintertime Northern Lights visibility and seasonal bird-watching. It is a great place to visit any time of year, but if snorkeling is your love, come to Churchill from June to September. If you haven’t got your own plane, be prepared for the very long Via Rail train ride from Winnipeg Man., heading north. It will take you 2 days to travel 1000 miles, but you can rent a birth if you want to sleep, otherwise enjoy the scenery.
Snorkeling with Belugas
The winter Hudson Bay ice breaks apart in June and the 3000 white beluga whales begin to migrate to the warm waters of the Churchill River, to spend the summer, frolicking and having babies.
“Sea North Tours” will take you in their Zodiac boats to greet the friendly whales. You will be wearing an arctic-rated wetsuit, hood, and cinched booties, that will keep you warm (enough) for a 30-minute, or hour-long visit in early August.
Once your body adapts to the cold water, and your heart stops racing, you will be ready to hear and see the whale pods. The belugas communicate with a whistling sound. They might sound like canary birds chirping.
Anyway, you will know that they are heading your way, and soon about 10 whales will appear in the crystal clear waters around you. This snorkeling experience will be like no other. The whales will be close enough for you to reach out and touch. Sing to them through your mask, and they will sing back.
About 57,000 beluga whales gather in this region during the Canadian summer months. This is the largest gathering of beluga whales in the world. They are very friendly, and you will experience their chirps, whistles, and chatters, as they talk with one another about their winter experiences in the Arctic north waters, and what their plans are for the summer. Baby-making of course, is number one on their minds. They always have to be aware of the famous white polar bears and orca whales (see below). These are their only natural predators.
Beluga means ‘the white one’ in Russian. Only adult belugas are white. The calves are born brown, and become totally white between six and eight years of age. The beluga’s body is stout, with well-defined necks, and a small head. Their skin is fairly thick, and their flippers are short. Watch out for their sharp teeth.
Belugas are different from other whales because they do not have a dorsal fin. They can grow to 15 feet, and weigh up to 2000 lbs. If you see an upward curve at the top of their flippers, that is a male whale.
Their hearing is very sharp, and they use sound to find things in the water. This technique is referred to as echo-location. You will appreciate their natural sonar because they spend much of their life in dark cold waters of the north. When they dive to depths of 300 feet, there is no light. Humans don’t make it any easier for whales to see, by altering their environment. The silt from the shores runs into the water, restricting their visibility. Belugas make a clicking sound that bounces off fish in the water. Dinner is served!
There are many tour companies in Churchill to assist you with your snorkeling adventure. We suggest you check out bigfishexpeditions.com. They have an interesting 7 day package for you.
Beluga Capital of the World – Watch