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Posts Tagged ‘beluga whale watching’

Polar bear fight on Hudson Bay puts kink in plans at Seal River Lodge (in a good way!)

Polar bear pounces on rivals in Hudson Bay.

Polar bear pounces on rivals in Hudson Bay.

by Andy MacPherson, Polar Bear Guide

The winds blowing from the northeast put a small kink in our planned activities for the morning, but three restless polar bears stirring on One Bear Point certainly provided enough distraction to keep everyone’s mind off the weather.

And the change of plans paid off in photo opportunities!

After breakfast I went out to see if our neighbours had begun to move, but I was too late. They had already ventured 100 meters into the water and were fully engaged in a three-way brouhaha! We spread the word to the guests that departure time was moved up and all came surging out of the Lodge to watch the melee from ringside seats. Front row!

The bears were already swinging for the cheap seats and leaping off the turnbuckles as we settled in for the show. Sucker punches were definitely part of the action and an ongoing hushed commentary could be heard from the guests.

Mork, a resident bear, was chewing on Bob’s neck, while Nanu Nanu circled looking for a weakness before submarining and emerging to pounce and dunk whichever rival was within his reach. The show and the combatants never seemed to slow down.  Moving back and forth in front of us in the water, the bears used every tactical advantage the terrain provided, especially boulders. To climb on, hide behind and leap from.

Amazing!

Ouch! Just kidding. Love bite.

Ouch!!! Just kidding. Love bite.

What were we going to do for an encore? How about a Beluga trip?

Low and behold the wind dropped and the sea calmed as we finished our lunch. The decision was made to try a dropping-tide Beluga trip on the spur of the moment, and everyone rushed to catch the high water before it was too late to launch the Zodiacs. The weather and whales cooperated and everyone was excited to have another opportunity to commune with the whales, both from the surface and in the water.

We ended the perfect day with a glass of wine before bed, and the promise of Northern Lights still to come.

Fingers crossed.

A perfect day  for polar bears.

A perfect day for polar bears…

Sunset cruise for Belugas on Hudson Bay

Evening cruise to see Belugas on Hudson Bay

Evening cruise to see Belugas on Hudson Bay

by Andy MacPherson, Polar Bear Guide

The wind had died down. The only traces of today’s earlier gale were the smooth glass swells slipping beneath us as we cruised towards the Seal River.

Just 30 minutes earlier we were sitting down to fresh baked apple pie and homemade vanilla ice cream. Now we were on our way to see what the evening had in store for us.

The mouth of the Seal was calm. The Port of Churchill peaked over the horizon to the Southeast and the sound of the rapids reached out to us, waiting patiently for the whales to show themselves.

We weren’t disappointed.

As soon as the hydrophone was in the water we were regaled by the sounds of an orchestra tuning up to perform a symphony. Just for us!

Squeaks, groans, whistles and click trains… Belugas have been known to produce over 1200 different sounds and can even mimic human speech. Amazing! We were serenaded into the evening as the sun began to set. Whales circled our boats, surfacing as they came closer to investigate their own voices projected back to them from the speakers on the hydrophones.

Unfortunately we had to leave the show early, as we needed to make our way back to Seal River Lodge before the fire in the sky began to dip below the horizon.

A fine ending to a spectacular day.

Sunset at Seal River

Sunset at Seal River

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 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

A Seal River Beluga (and Polar Bear) Experience

The following account was originally published on Ebushpilot.com back in 2006. The original story and pictures, written by John S. Goulet, can be found here.

The Seal River Heritage Lodge Pancake Breakfast

Arial view of beluga whales at Churchill Wild.

Belugas from the air!

Klaus and I have finally made it.

We are greeted to the Lodge by hosts Mike and Jennie Reimer. August is the prime of their season and they are busy guiding the guests to the various sites. The lodge is perfectly placed on a spit of sub-arctic tundra surrounded on three sides by the Arctic waters of the Hudson Bay.

As we sat down in the dining room we could view the ocean waters from any of the three large picture windows. Mike has spotting scopes and binoculars handy to help spot the numerous water and shore birds of the area, and to scout for the whales off shore as they break the surface to spout.

The main attraction is the beluga whales which you can see by the thousands as they swim in and out of the North and South mouths of the fabulous Seal River. They come in with the rising tide and leave with the ebbing tide. Mostly they congregate in the mouth of the river where you can visit them in the clear waters using the rubber rafts and small outboard motors. Like shooting fish in a barrel – except you do the shooting with a camera. Mike arranges the rubber rafts for us to leave on a guided tour early the next morning.

At day break I stand on the watch tower over the lodge scanning the bay for water spouts. The rising sun saturates the backdrop sky a gumdrop orange.

As the whales blow the saltwater, back-lit by the sun, into a sparkling diamond spray we set off across the open water. Within 20 minutes we spot whales. These are large with huge black backs and a fan spray blow as they surface. We try to get near them, but they continue to swim off. They are definitely not beluga whales. My best guess is that they are the huge majestic bow whales. Bow whales were hunted commercially until only about 20 years ago and are still considered a rare sighting in this part of the Hudson Bay. We consider ourselves very lucky to have spotted them. We quit the chase and head to the mouth of the Seal River.

Long before we ever reach the Seal River, however, we can see the blow from a distance. With a sea-spray that reaches up to 90 cm the blow is very visible. We are already in the midst of belugas.

They are heading in the same direction and swimming with a purpose. We are sailing with a purpose. They are after the shallow river protein such as worms, crustaceans, shrimp, clams, snails, crabs, and small fish. Fish such as capelin, char, sand lance, smelt, flounder, herring, and cod, are usually taken in deeper water but can be caught much easier in the restricted river mouth. The total take of 25 kgs per day is not much by whale standards, but still a lot of lunch that eventually adds up to 1500 kg of adult male whale.

The beluga can stay submerged for 15-20 minutes and travel up to 2-3 km under water on one dive. That is one of the reasons the river mouth is such a great place to get close and see the whales. The space is restricted and the whales surface more often to spy hop their way around the smaller areas. In the estuaries they usually only stay submerged for only about 2 minutes, and make 1 or 2 surfacings before the longer 1-2 minutes dive.

Before long we are surrounded by whale pods cruising by. These pods are mostly small family groups, but the larger pods can reach up to 10,000 individuals. We can see them clearly, but somehow they are still cautious and do not come too close. Some of the mothers are followed closely, almost as if they are lashed to their backs, by awkward gray calves. Breeding in May means our calves were 3-4 months old. Occasionally we can hear their squawk-like calls. Like other whales, the beluga use echo-location to find their way around and to find food.

After an exhilarating several hours of watching the whales, we decide to stop for our own lunch. Mike and Quentin, his friend and acting guide, tied the two rubber rafts together so we can all share our meal and our experiences.

As we drifted along in this peaceful inner sea and quietly chatted with our fellow rafters, we noticed that the whales were finally starting to show some interest in us. I felt that when the two rubber rafts rubbed together they produced a squeak that the whale’s natural curiosity could not resist.

As an experiment, I tried to make the rafts squeak more frequently, but it took a special combination that could not be duplicated easily. I tried rubbing my Gortex pants on the rubber raft but that was too soft a squeak. Finally, Mike caught on to what I was doing and rubbed his own rubber rain slicker pants on the rubber of the raft. That was the magic we needed.

The squeak he produced drove the whales crazy with curiosity and within minutes we were surrounded by over 50 whales in different pods jostling us for a closer look at what was making that peculiar noise. We pulled out our cameras and were snapping incessantly as they spy hopped closer and closer. Mike put his hand under water and the friendly beluga were swimming so close he could feel the flow of their wake.

beluga whales

The belugas come right up to the boat.

One particular mother and calf would not leave us alone. She came by time and time again with the little one close on her back. The little gray beluga seemed to love these frequent visits as he hopped up higher each time to look see. When we finally left hours later we had several pods follow us almost all the way home. They could not leave us alone. Nor did we want to leave them, but the day was coming to a close and we had to return to base.

Spending the day with these fellow creatures of curiosity was one the most incredible one on one, or animal family to human family, experiences I have ever had in the wild.

And at Seal River there is so much more nature to go one on one with.

From the Lodge you can take guided interpretive nature and culture walks where you can see caribou, bald eagles, Canada and Snow geese, ptarmigan, sik siks, and polar bears.

Along the interpretive walks you get to visit ancient Dene and Inuit camping sites, outlined by either the weathered tent poles the Dene used, or the tent circle of stones that the Inuit used to anchor their skin tents. The sites have been investigated by archeologist Virginia Petch and the walks have been mapped by GPS to make sure you can see the most with the least trouble. The walks are tough but worth it.

That evening Jeanne, Mike’s partner and wife, prepares us an incredible dinner of arctic char, garden peas, and homemade red river cereal bread. Dessert is a (locally picked) cranberry crumble and coffee.

After dinner the sun sets in a glorious blaze of orange to end a perfect day. I am to take an evening stroll on the runway’s high point of ground where the evening breeze will keep the bugs swept away. The night is perfectly clear and I can see the planets of Jupiter followed by Venus and a host of northern stars. The night air is cool and I fall asleep deep into the dead of the night.

The next morning the sky is blue blazon with the gold of sunrise and Jeanne serves us the most fantastic sight we have seen since leaving Nigeria 3 weeks ago. Canadian pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup, and as a special treat, blueberry compote made with fresh picked local blueberries. The ending to our trip could not have been any more special. We have flown over 10,000 miles to have breakfast in Canada. Perhaps next time you can join us.

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To experience what John wrote about above check out our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure Safari. This one of a kind summer experience takes place at the Seal River Heritage Lodge during July and August.