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Seal River Heritage Lodge

Oceans North to continue beluga whale research at Seal River Heritage Lodge, What we’ve learned so far

Beluga Whales near Seal River Lodge - Photo Credit: Michael Poliza

Beluga Whales near Seal River Lodge – Photo Credit: Michael Poliza

Oceans North Canada, in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, will be back at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge for a two-week period beginning July 3, 2013 for the second year of their three-year research study on the Hudson Bay population of beluga whales. They have 14 tags in total to deploy in both the Churchill and Seal rivers.

In our last update we mentioned that three tagged beluga whales had been successfully transmitting data back to the research team. Although full data analysis on habitat use by the beluga whales won’t start until the tagging project is complete, Oceans North Canada has learned a few things about beluga whale behavior so far:

  • Belugas stayed close to the Seal river as expected throughout the months of July and August, with the highest density area near the mouth of the estuary
  • Migration stated at the end of August/early September and all belugas still transmitting at the time of migration followed the western Hudson Bay coast closely and traveled around the north side of Southampton island
  • Belugas arrived in what now appears to be their winter ground for this season in late November, which is similar timing to that of whales tagged in the Nelson estuary
  • The winter range of the belugas is considerably further west than expected in the Hudson Strait
  • Tagged bowhead whales from the Foxe Basin area are wintering in the same general area this year.
  • Although they lost a few tags early on (could be many factors: battery, attachment, demise of whale), this is not unusual and two tags transmitting nine months after attachment is considered good (7.6 months was the longest tag from five years of beluga tagging work in the Nelson estuary)

 
Every summer, one of the largest concentrations of beluga whales in the world converges on southwest Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. This is one of the main reasons Churchill Wild began the offering the popular Birds, Bears & Belugas safari many years ago.

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Thanks to you, our valued readers and guests, Birds, Bears & Belugas has now become one of the most popular wildlife adventure vacations in Canada, if not the world, and it is now part of the Canadian Tourism Commission’s Signature Experience Collection.

Birds, Bears & Belugas takes place during July and August and combines the thrill of swimming with beluga whales (as weather permits) with the Churchill Wild signature “on the ground” safari of summer polar bear viewing on a backdrop of tundra alive with flora and fauna!

Watch the Beluga Tagging Videos at Discovery Channel Canada!

 
An estimated 57,000 belugas migrate to estuaries formed by the Seal, Nelson, and Churchill rivers every year. More scientific studies are needed to understand why belugas are drawn to these estuaries and how they interact with this environment so that key habitat can be protected. This research is also important to the hundreds of Inuit families in the area.

To learn more about this exciting and worthwhile study, please visit the Hudson Bay Beluga Project online, where you’ll find beluga whale facts, videos of the beluga whale tagging from Discovery Channel Canada, an interactive beluga tracking map and more!

Churchill Wild celebrates 20th Anniversary! Thank You!

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013

Celebrating 20 years! Seal River Heritage Lodge 2013.

20 years? Say it isn’t so. Wow!

Seems like just yesterday we were flying north up the coast from Churchill to have a look at a couple of old tumbled down shacks near the mouth of the Seal River, with hopes of finding a spot for a polar bear lodge.

Dennis Fast shook his head in disbelief when he first spotted the site.

“You better buy it quick before Jeanne sees it!”

Seal River Lodge in 1993

What we saw from the plane in 1993!

Well, we made the plunge, and as they say, the rest is history.

The first few seasons were “interesting” to say the least, and thank goodness we had Jeanne’s parents Doug and Helen Webber backing the program with their years of experience in the fishing and hunting lodge business.

Our first summer (1993) was spent cleaning up the site and making the existing building habitable. It had been used previously as a whale research station and for some goose hunting, but had sat abandoned for many years. All the windows and doors had been knocked out by marauding polar bears; the swallows were nesting in the light fixtures; and the Arctic foxes had found it a convenient spot to get out of the wind for a bathroom break.

With much elbow grease, lots of paint, new beds, plumbing, electrical, roofing and some new doors and windows, we eventually had a place to call home. Of course, just to remind us of whose turf we were on, a curious polar bear smashed out one of the new windows in the first week before we had a chance to get some bars up.

That first season was not a real money maker to say the least, with only one client, but the adventure level was very high. We had an endless supply of new routes and trails to explore and establish!

Like most small businesses, Jeanne and I ran the whole show for a few seasons while we got our feet under us. Jeanne was chef/housekeeper/bear guard/hostess/expeditor/berry picker (with our kids as helpers) while I did all the other stuff, none of which I can seem to remember right now!

I do remember that our first bedroom, which eventually became the laundry room, was five feet wide by 14 feet long with Jeanne and I at one end and our girls — Rebecca, Karli and Allison — stacked three deep like cordwood at the other end. When Adam came along he slept on a shelf above our bed! All very cozy, the kids loved it and thought it was all one big adventure, though Jeanne had some other ideas at times.

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge

Dining Room at Seal River Heritage Lodge today. We've come a long way!

We discovered, much to our delight, that Seal River had an incredible array of flora and fauna. It was going to be a spectacular choice for an ecolodge! The mechanics of building and operating the lodge came naturally (mostly!) as we had both gained a wealth of very valuable experience working together with Doug and Helen at their lodges. They were pillars of much needed support in those early years.

Operating any sort of lodges or remote camps in the Arctic has its share of challenges, as the source of all supplies is usually hundreds of miles away. And they are being purchased from people who really do not have a clue as to how difficult it is to get anything to us.

Everything must be ordered weeks and sometimes months in advance, to be shipped by train from Winnipeg to Churchill where it can be flown to the lodge, or, in the case of building materials, dragged over the sea ice during the winter with our old 1956 D6 Cat. If anything breaks down you can measure in days and weeks the amount of time it takes to get a replacement part, and sometimes the season ends before the new parts arrive!

Our environment entirely dictates our activities, and on this type of jobsite you might find yourself stuck offshore on an ice flow; broke down in a howling blizzard on Hudson Bay; or sitting in the floatplane on a lonely stretch of river waiting for the fog to lift so you can get much needed groceries to the lodge.

Inside Seal River Heritage Lodge

Interior of Seal River Heritage Lodge today. It wasn't always this nice!

Occasionally you might find yourself whacking an overly curious polar bear on the nose for sticking his head through the shop door, or crawling under the lodge at 3 a.m. to thaw out frozen pipes. There’s a whole host of weird and challenging things at all kinds of crazy hours, in all sorts of weather. Never a dull moment in this business!

There have been many, many adventures and challenges over the years. Maybe someday we’ll find the time to write them all down in a book. At present we continue to add new destinations and safaris. Along with Seal River Heritage Lodge and the Birds, Bears & Belugas summer polar bear experience, we also operate Dymond Lake EcoLodge, home of the Great Ice Bear Adventure, and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, home of Mothers & Cubs, as well as North Knife Lake Fishing Lodge, the Arctic Safari, Polar Bear Photo Safari and Black & White Adventure. Our growth has resulted in the need for more staff. Luckily, we have been blessed with the best. Those little kids we used to stack up on the shelves are now our chefs, managers and admin staff!

Jeanne & Mike

Jeanne & Mike Reimer

Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without you, our guests. A big polar bear hug goes out to all of you, for spending your hard earned dollars and time with us. We have thoroughly enjoyed your company and made many lifelong friends.

Thank you for making it all possible.

Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Nolan Booth named new Director of Lodge Operations at Churchill Wild

Nolan Booth with Polar Bear at Dymond Lake Lodge

Nolan Booth with friend at Dymond Lake EcoLodge

Nolan Booth has been named Director of Lodge Operations at Churchill Wild. Congratulations Nolan!

Nolan has been with Churchill Wild for the past five years managing Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, home of Mothers & Cubs, and Dymond Lake Lodge, which hosts the Great Ice Bear Adventure, but has worked on and off for Churchill Wild and its associated lodges for over 25 years. Nolan’s wife Doreen is the Manager of Sales and Guest Relations at Churchill Wild.

Responsibilities in Nolan’s new position will include guest relations, staffing, day-to-day lodge operations, building and construction during the off season, and making sure the lodges run with all the comforts of home during the peak travel season, which includes maintaining the solar power system and the generators.

“We’re doing some renovations and major upgrades at Dymond Lake Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge this year,” said Nolan, who is looking forward to the challenge. “During the summer when there is a good amount of sun, the lodges can run almost exclusively on solar power. The generators are there for backup though, and are used as necessary.”

Next week, Nolan, Riley Friesen and Mike Reimer will be jumping into the Bombardier to haul a new generator, batteries, equipment and new windows on a giant sleigh across Hudson Bay to Dymond Lake Lodge. The 22 km trip will take the adventurous trio across the Churchill River, through Seahorse Gully and across Button Bay on Hudson Bay. Equipment and building materials will also soon be on their way to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, where a new “bigger and better” lodge is being built.

“At first the new lodge at Nanuk will be used as the main kitchen, dining room and lounge for the guests,” said Nolan. “Later we will be adding sleeping quarters to it.”

Born and raised in Churchill, Manitoba, Nolan also spent 10 years in the Yukon, and has been around either polar bears or grizzly bears all his life. The 40-year-old “bear” veteran started out in the lodge business over 25 years ago with Doug Webber at North Knife Lake Lodge, doing whatever it took to make the facilities run smoothly, and it has been a natural progression to the polar bear lodges of Churchill Wild.

“You deal with polar bears in Churchill and grizzlies in the Yukon,” said Nolan. “When you’re salmon fishing in the Yukon, the grizzlies are basically doing what you’re doing. You share the river with them and you have to be careful.”

Nolan has also fished for brook trout in the Mistikokan River near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. In that case it was the polar bears he had to watch out for.

“Bears are in my blood,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this. And the three different lodges each have something unique about them, so it’s always interesting. Dymond Lake Lodge is on the tree line and the lake; Seal River Heritage Lodge is right on the Hudson Bay coast; and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located on the coast in the historically significant area of York Factory, surrounded by two of the largest and most powerful rivers in Canada, the Nelson and the Hayes.”

“We had our best season ever at Dymond Lake Lodge last year. There was good bear traffic and it’s always fun to be out walking with the guests when the polar bears are around. The feeling people get when they first see a polar bear up close in its home environment is almost indescribable. I’ve been around bears all my life and my heart still races when I see a polar bear.”

“Last year was also an excellent year at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge,” continued Nolan. “We saw both black bears and polar bears on a daily basis, and all kinds of other wildlife. The black bears and the polar bears never get too close to each other. The black bears run away when the polar bears move in. I’m really looking forward to getting back up there this season and hanging out with the bears.”

“It’s my dream job.”

Nolan Booth (Center) with Polar Bear Guides Steve Schellenberg (Left) and Terry Elliot (Right))

Nolan Booth (Center) with Polar Bear Guides Steve Schellenberg (Left) and Terry Elliot (Right))