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Posts Tagged ‘beluga whales’

Extreme Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill first of its kind, will help remote communities

Polar Bear Marathon, Churchill, Manitoba

An extreme adventure marathon.

If you think walking with polar bears at one of our lodges might get your heart racing, how about running with them? That’s just what 16 elite athletes from around the world will be doing in Churchill, Manitoba on November 20, 2012, when they compete in the Polar Bear Marathon at a distance of what could be 50 km.

Why would you want to run 50 km in -40 degree temperatures surrounded by polar bears, wolves and other less dangerous and assorted arctic wildlife?

Charity is the first reason, as the runners will be supporting the Native (First Nations people of Canada’s North) ministry work of Athletes in Action (AIA) Baseball camps. The second reason would obviously be the remote location and adventure and the third would be bragging rights to doing something that’s never been done before.

The run will support the work of the Athletes in Action (AIA) in the Sayisi Dene First Nations community of Tadoule Lake, 250 km west of Churchill. AIA has done baseball camps in two different First Nations communities for the past eight years. The work is based on volunteers and donations and this isolated group of people is served with contributions of sports equipment and various community events that let them know they are loved and not forgotten.

The remote location of Churchill is well known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” and Manitoba’s beluga whale watching hotspot. And besides being a birder’s paradise, it is also one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights, especially as winter approaches. The Polar Bear Marathon will take place just as the polar bears are getting ready to move out on to the ice for the winter, which of course will add more than ample adventure to the trek.

The adventure seekers and marathoners who have signed up to participate in the Polar Bear Marathon hail from Germany, the USA and both Steinbach and Churchill, Manitoba, and include Eric Alexander, an amazing athlete and mountain climber who not only climbed Mt. Everest, but also escorted and helped a blind climber summit Everest. Also among the participants are a marathoner from San Diego who has run in a 100 km event at the South Pole, another from Germany who has run in over 150 marathons, and an extreme event specialist.

Due to the harsh environment and the weather conditions, the Polar Bear Marathon will be run in tight groups as a “gentleman’s run” and runners will have to stay together due to the presence of polar bears, foxes, wolves and weather. Vehicles will accompany runners from both behind and in front for safety reasons and to serve as mobile aid stations. The exact route is yet to be determined.

Mother Polar Bear and Cubs - Dennis Fast

We'll be watching you.

“It looks like we’ll being going with four runners per group right now,” said organizer Albert Martens. “We might have room for a few more participants but they would have to contact me very soon. Right now we have four vehicles lined up to go with the runners. There will be a dinner with medal presentations and a polar bear slideshow presentation by Churchill Wild’s chief professional photographer Dennis Fast after the run. There will also be a German journalist covering the event.”

Every summer, Albert Martens flies into remote and isolated First Nation communities to do sports camps. These remote communities have included Pauingassi and Tadoule Lake in Manitoba and Poplar Hill in Ontario. Martens and up to eight volunteers help the children and youth with baseball and bible classes, while also serving the adults with Men’s Breakfasts, Ladies Teas, and other community events. All work and expenses are covered by personal donations and volunteer staff.

“Convinced of good support, reliable vehicles, and a small, slow group of runners, I have agreed to do this event and run my first marathon,” said Alexander on his Higher Summits Web site. “Running in the realm of the polar bear, I suspect I have a good shot at a world record. Well, this is not just a fun run to sightsee and avoid predation; this is a benefit for Athletes in Action and their commitment to helping the indigenous people of the far north. I will be speaking at a fund-raising dinner after the run (provided I survive the run) and am thereby pledging to help Athletes in Action. This is where you can help – please consider a donation to Athletes in Action to reach a group of people that you may never otherwise get to meet.”

The Dessert Night Fundraiser Alexander was speaking of will take place on November 22, 2012 at Canad Inns in Winnipeg in support of the AIA First Nations Ministry. Alexander will be the keynote speaker at the event, which will feature highlights and images of the Polar Bear Marathon along with the premier showing of the AIA – Grand Canyon running documentary.

A renowned speaker and the author of The Summit: Faith Beyond Everest’s Death Zone, Alexander is a person who embodies a picture of hope and possibility for all of us. For more information, please visit his Web site at www.HigherSummits.com. For additional information on the Polar Bear Marathon, please contact Albert Martens by phone at (204) 346-1345, via email at aemart@mts.net or visit his Web site at www.AlbertMartens.com. There are bound to be questions, and for good reason.

“It’s never been done before,” said Martens.

Related Story: Steinbach Man Organizing Polar Bear Marathon

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Winter Running - Albert Martens

There's just something exhilarating about a winter run!

Donations towards AIA First Nations Ministry may be made by issuing a cheque in USA or CDN currency  payable to Athletes in Action and mailed to Eric Alexander or Albert Martens at the addresses below.

Eric Alexander
Higher Summits
PO Box 6102
Vail, Colorado 81658 USA

Albert Martens
408-2nd Street,
Steinbach, Manitoba
Canada R5G 0V5

USA or CDN tax receipts will be issued to the donor.

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!

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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.

 

 

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.

Underwater with Beluga Whales in Hudson Bay

World explorers visiting our remote polar bear ecolodge on the coast of Hudson Bay this year saw beluga whales in record-breaking numbers while enjoying one of the best summers in years. The remote location of Seal River Heritage Lodge ensures countless unique wildlife encounters both by land and sea but this season our beluga swim encounters were nothing short of spectacular.

The stunning footage in the video below was shot this summer less than a kilometer from the Lodge by one of our intrepid snorkelers after he was “adopted” by a pod of over 80 beluga whales. We typically have 3,000 to 4,000 beluga whales summering off the shore here at the Lodge, but the numbers this season might have been close to double that. Truly a wildlife extravaganza!

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