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Whale Watching

Moms, Cubs, Blooms and Belugas all in fine form at Seal River!

 by Terry Elliot, Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guide

Mom & Cubs at Seal River

Mom & Cubs at Seal River

Just about at the halfway point of our summer season and I thought I would let everyone know how things have been going.

There have been so many mothers and cubs this year that I have lost count! This morning we saw a Mom with two cubs nursing on the tidal flats with another Mom and her cub in the distance. The last group saw two separate nursing sessions with one of the cubs vocalizing his displeasure at having to move on too soon.

Great groups of people and everyone leaving just blown away by the things they have seen. The belugas have been amazing with many of the guests getting kissed and nuzzled by them.

Getting friendly with the Belugas!

Getting friendly with the Belugas!

The flower bloom has been spectacular (as usual) and thanks to a warm dry spring the bugs have been almost nonexistent. Looking forward to the rest of the season, and to the Arctic Safari, my favourite trip!

Bye! Have fun with the Belugas!

Bye! Have fun with the Belugas!

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!

Oceans North Canada headed back to Seal River Lodge this summer for Beluga Whale research and tagging

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, is in the second year of a three-year beluga whale research project to gather data on the Western Hudson Bay population. Last year brought great success, with six whales tagged with satellite transmitters, so they’re headed back to Seal River Lodge to tag more beluga whales this summer!

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Click Image for Interactive Beluga Whale Tracking Map

Every summer, one of the largest concentrations of beluga whales in the world, converges on southwest Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. This population was studied in the 1980s and early 2000s using aerial surveys and satellite tracking. That research revealed the close relationship between belugas and the Manitoba estuaries where they spend their summers, but many questions remain about this species and its habitat.

More scientific studies are needed to understand why belugas are drawn to the estuaries in this region and how they interact with this environment so that key habitat can be protected.

Watch the Beluga Tagging Videos at Discovery Channel Canada!

This summer the project aims to tag 10 beluga whales in the Seal River area. To date, three belugas tagged in the Seal River this past July are still transmitting and providing good quality geographic locations and dive information. More information, including maps showing the weekly movements of the whales can be found at www.ArcticWhaleStudy.ca

Birds, Bears & Beluga Whale Snorkeling! A Great Summer at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure is winding down now, but the summer of 2012 was certainly one of our best ever for walking with polar bears and swimming with beluga whales! A big thank you goes out to our fabulous guests!

This year the bears were aided by a late thaw, which resulted in them being fat and healthy when they ventured off the ice and into our polar bear viewing domain. Spots for the 2013 Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure are already filling up. Watch for Seal River Heritage Lodge to be featured in future IMAX, National Geographic and Discovery Channel productions. Churchill Wild is truly becoming the home of the world’s next great safari!

Many people are intrigued by the beluga whale swims. Below is a short video to give you an idea of what you’re missing. It is an incredible experience!

YouTube Preview Image

One of the aspects not readily apparent in the video above is the fact that the whales are singing.  Beluga whales are known as the “Canaries of the Sea” because of their chirping. When your head is in the water you can hear them. If you sing or hum through your snorkel, the whales respond in kind. Whether it be a Broadway show tune, your alma mater song or the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” — they all worked for guests this summer!

Below are a few photos from one of our beluga whale swims this summer. Click the image to scroll through the photos or click Show picture list to view the photo gallery.

New Photo Contest for Seal River Heritage Lodge Guests

Seal River Heritage Lodge

Seal River Heritage Lodge

The Province of Manitoba nominated the Seal River to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) in June 1987. The nominated section is 260 km long and extends from the junction of the North and South Seal rivers, at Shethanei Lake, to Hudson Bay. This is the area we hike to and swim with beluga whales during our Birds Bears & Belugas Adventure every summer.

Named for the harbour seals that are found up to 200 km upstream from Hudson Bay, Manitoba’s Seal River rushes through open spruce forest, tundra and boiling rapids. Too rugged for even the early fur traders, the river’s remote vastness remains home to spectacular wildlife such as caribou, wolverine, polar bear and 3,000 beluga whales that summer in its estuary on Hudson Bay. The Seal River’s designation to the CHRS was primarily based on its exceptional natural heritage.

We recently became aware of a contest that many of our guests may be interested in entering and here it is. Please note that this is not a Churchill Wild contest:

Experience Canadian Heritage Rivers Photo Contest

Help capture the splendour and the excitement of the Canadian Heritage Rivers! Parks Canada’s Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is pleased to partner with Rapid Media’s Canoeroots and Family Camping Magazine for a second year to launch the Experience Canadian Heritage Rivers photo contest.

Photos can be submitted in the following four categories:

1) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Family;

2) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Nature;

3) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Cities; and

4) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Adventure.

The contest runs from May 15 to October 31, 2012. Winning photos will be published in the Spring 2013 issue of Canoeroots and Family Camping Magazine and will also tour throughout North America in the 2013 edition of the Reel Paddling Film Festival. To learn more about the contest and to submit photos, visit the Canoeroots Web site: http://www.canoerootsmag.com/chrsphotocontest/ .

The contest seeks to increase Canadians’ sense of connection to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, and to the outstanding natural, cultural and recreational heritage of these special rivers. Through the contest, Canadians can communicate their unique and exciting perceptions and experiences of Canadian Heritage Rivers.

The CHRS is the world’s largest river conservation program, with 42 rivers spanning close to 11,000 kilometres.  The program was established in 1984 by federal, provincial and territorial governments to conserve rivers with outstanding heritage values, to give them national recognition, and to encourage the public to enjoy and appreciate them.