Churchill may be known for its polar bears, but there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen there too. The second half of July and the first half of August marks the best time of year to see beluga whales, as 60,000 of them (the highest concentration in the entire world) descend upon Hudson Bay, Manitoba.
How can I spot a beluga?
Beluga whales, also called white whales, have white skin because it has adapted to life in the arctic. Adult belugas are white in colour, whereas the young calves are a grey-brown colour until they have matured. Belugas have a distinctive protruding forehead, called a melon, that helps them to make different communication sounds. The Hudson Bay (Churchill) Beluga whales are easy to idenitfy because they are the smallest of all beluga whales.
How to see them
Zodiac tour: A zodiac tour is perfect for those who want to see belugas without getting in the water. It also allows you to get closer to the belugas than a passenger boat would – perfect for photographers and wildlife lovers!
Passenger boat: A passenger boat tour is a larger vessel, so is perfect for larger groups. Curious belugas come up to the boat to see their human friends, and if you want to listen to hear what goes on under the water, you can listen to their conversations with a hydrophone.
Snorkel: It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, but snorkelling is how you’ll get closest to these magnificent creatures. Zip up your wetsuit and submerge yourself in subarctic temperatures as your zodiac pulls you through the beluga-laden water.
Kayak: Amateur or pro – it doesn’t matter. Get up close with the belugas without getting in the water and see how they interact with your kayak and paddle as you weave your way around the Churchill River. A true once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When to go
The best time of year to spot belugas in Churchill is the second half of July and the first half of August. Every July, tens of thousands of beluga whales migrate to the Hudson Bay to feed and give birth. At Cape Merry, you can see huge numbers of whale pods diving in the river mouth.
- Belugas are one of the most vocal whales in the world and are often referred to as ‘sea canaries.
- They are the only whale with a flexible neck – their curiosity will get the better of them and they’re likely to peer up at you if you pass them nearby!
- Belugas have an average speed of up to 13.5 miles per hour.
- They can dive to depths of 600m and can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.
- The average life span of a Western Hudson Bay beluga whale is 10 years, though some have lived to 30 years old.