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Posts Tagged ‘Seal River’

Seal River: Wild, Rugged and Natural

The Seal River is located approximately 10 kilometers to the south of Seal River Heritage Lodge.
Seal River Heritage Lodge

Seal River Heritage Lodge

Where the Seal River meets the Hudson Bay there exists a hot spot for polar bears, seal, beluga whales and a myriad of Arctic wildlife  – it is truly one of the world’s incredible natural beauties!

The area is rich in history and unique characteristics that make it one of the most desirable destinations for the world’s dedicated adventure travellers.

It is also a Canadian Heritage Rivers System.

Below is a “fact sheet” from the official website that outlines what makes this area so special.

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Of the four major rivers in Northern Manitoba, the Seal River alone remains completely undeveloped, wild and rugged.

In contrast to the impoundments on the Churchill and the Nelson, and the rich fur trade and exploration history of the Hayes, the Seal River shows virtually no evidence of modern human activity. Although in the days before written history the river flowed through a major native hunting and fishing ground, the Seal now attracts only a few native people and small groups of hardy wilderness adventurers.

For these groups, travel downriver may require two to four weeks of difficult yet exhilarating boating. First, an extensive cold-water lake is encountered where winds can create dangerous waves; then, numerous long rapids in a totally isolated, sub-arctic environment test their survival skills; finally, travellers must navigate a boulder-strewn tidal estuary.

The Province of Manitoba nominated the Seal to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System 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.

Geography

The Seal River is located in the roadless wilderness of Northern Manitoba, 1000 km by air charter from Winnipeg. The Seal estuary is 45 km across Hudson Bay from Churchill. Other than Churchill (population 1,300), the only settlement in the area is Tadoule (population 250), a small Chipewyan community located along the South Seal River at Tadoule Lake.

The Seal begins its course at Shethanei Lake ringed by the magnificent sand-crowned eskers that are so much a part of the Seal River landscape. Then, passing stands of black spruce, its velocity increases toward the Big Spruce River Delta, and accelerates dramatically into the rapids and gorges which surround Great Island. Beyond the island, the river leaves the boreal forest and enters a sparsely-treed, transitional subarctic environment of tundra and heath, christened by the natives the “Land of Little Sticks”. Finally, the Seal flows through barren arctic tundra, huge boulder fields and complex rapids, spilling into a beautiful estuary where its freshwaters mix with the salt of Hudson Bay.

Except for the less than two dozen skilled rafting and canoeing parties which visit the river each year, and the occasional native fisherman and trapper, there is virtually no human activity along the Seal River. The remote, roadless nature of this region has meant that activities such as mining exploration have been costly, air-supported ventures, and even the discussion stages of any development of the area’s hydro potential are many years away.

Natural Heritage

Nomination of the Seal River to the CHRS was based primarily on its outstanding natural heritage:

  • The Seal is the largest remaining undammed river in Northern Manitoba.
  • The river valley contains excellent representation of the subarctic boreal forest of the Precambrian Shield, and the arctic tundra of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
  • The valley is also habitat for 33 species of plants which are rare in Manitoba, and supports some unusually large white spruce and tamarack.
  • Glacial features are everywhere. 300 metre-wide eskers extend up to several hundred kilometres in a north-south direction, sometimes as lake peninsulas or submerged landforms. Northern Manitoba’s largest drumlin fields were formed here by the glaciers, as were extensive boulder fields.
  • The estuary area is actually rebounding from the weight of the glaciers at a rate of about 53 cm per century, among the fastest in the world.
  • The Seal also provides habitat for undisturbed wildlife populations. Common here are moose, black bear, wolf, fox, snowshoe hare, ptarmigan, Canada goose, ducks, otter and beaver. The much rarer wolverine, golden and bald eagle, osprey, and polar bear are also found. Even more important, the river’s estuary is the calving and feeding grounds for 3000 beluga whales, part of the largest concentration in the world and the Seal is winter range for part of the 400,000 strong Kamanuriak caribou herd. (Editor’s Note: This is part of what makes Churchill Wild Safaris at the Seal River Heritage Lodge the best polar bear experience in the world! There is no better place on the Hudson Bay to see the belugas, polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.) 

Churchill mapHuman Heritage

The Seal River area played an important role in native hunting, fishing and travelling. The white man found the area less hospitable. Isolated and difficult to navigate, with infertile soils and a cold climate, the Seal was quickly ruled out as a travel, trade or settlement corridor.

The river’s nomination to the CHRS was not based primarily on its human heritage, but there are several historical features of interest:

  • The number of prehistoric artifacts and archaeological sites along the Seal is unusually large. Fire rings, scrapers, flakes, projectiles and hammers are often exposed on the surface of eskers at campsites and along the caribou trails by the river, between Tadoule and Great Island. The age of these finds spans the Paleo-Indian peoples of 7,000 years ago, to the Taltheili Tradition of 1 A.D. to 1700 A.D. (Editor’s Note: During our  safaris guests often see tent rings, grave sites, fire pits as well as bone and tool fragments. This area was investigated and documented by archeologist Dr. Virginia Petch in the 1990′s) 
  • The remains of Chipewyan and European trappers’ cabins, and 100 year old grave sites marked by picket fences on top of eskers, reflect more recent occupation.
  • The river is also closely associated with one European explorer. Samuel Hearne of the Hudson Bay Company left Fort Prince of Wales, near Churchill, in February 1771, on his second of three attempts to locate the copper fields which the Indians said bordered the northern ocean. Enduring incredible hardship, Herne followed the Seal River inland on foot to Shethanei Lake. He then back-tracked to the Wolverine River which he followed north into the barrenlands. Hearne became the first white man to discover the Arctic Ocean, and his journals and maps were a major contribution to the knowledge of Canada’s north until the early 20th century.
  • An abandoned mining camp on Great Island, operated by the Great Seal Prospecting and Developing Syndicate between 1953 and 1958, is typical of mineral exploration camps which operated in the north during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Well preserved log buildings, a dynamite storage shack, a drilling platform, and other remnants are scattered throughout the site.

Recreation

The river’s nomination to the CHRS was based in part on its ability to provide an outstanding whitewater wilderness river trip. A trip from Tadoule to Hudson Bay would encounter, in order: 20 km of lake travel, with three major sets of rapids and a boulder field between Tadoule and Shethanei lake; 40 km of open, shallow water on Shethanei Lake, where dangerous waves and heavy winds can make travel impossible for days; 64 km of variable channels through numerous choppy rapids and a narrow, deep gorge; 28 km of intermittent whitewater along the scenic channel of Great Island including a possible 3 km portage; 124 km of flat country, transitional subarctic tundra forest and boulder field rapids; 4 km through the estuary’s maze of marshes, tidal flats, islands, shelves and reefs passable only on the north channel and then only when properly timed with the tides; and, finally a rendezvous with a float plane or water taxi from Churchill on the Hudson Bay shoreline.

In addition to a rugged wilderness river trip, the Seal River offers other recreational opportunities:

Shethanei Lake is very reliable for trophy-size lake trout, and large northern pike, and grayling are present throughout the river.

  • Hikes to the top of eskers and rocky knolls are rewarded with 360 degree vistas of a totally natural environment. Short hikes along eskers and beaches, or across Great Island, allow modern-day explorers to follow the timeless migration path of the barren-ground caribou. Visitors can also retrace the steps of Samuel Hearne by climbing the esker that was his vantage point on Shethanei Lake.
  • Wilderness camping is possible at numerous sites along the western two-thirds of the river. However, toward Hudson Bay, only poorly drained campsites on densely-willowed river banks are found.

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To see the Seal River you can book any one of the following Churchill Wild Safaris:

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.

Polar bears prove “fridge photographer” wrong at Seal River

Big polar bear near Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge, Hudson Bay, Manitoba.

One. Big. Polar Bear. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

Special to Churchill Wild
by +George Williams

Carol Moffatt describes herself as a “fridge photographer”.

Churchill Wild begs to differ.

The 47-year-old Reeve at the Municipality of Algonguin Highlands downplayed the fact that she took some fabulous shots of polar bears, landscapes and northern lights while attending our Polar Bear Photo Safari last October at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

“I don’t take photographs to sell them,” said Moffatt. “I’m a self-taught amateur photographer with a background in journalism. If someone wanted to offer me money for a photograph I might sell one, but really, if I have a nice photo, I put it on the fridge for a month.”

Moffatt has taken more than a few marvelous photos during adventures that have taken her from backpacking in the Australian outback, to Africa, to visiting the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland as well as Peru, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska,  Yukon and the Southwestern United States. You can view a selection of her photos on her Web site at http://cmoff.smugmug.com/

“The Yukon was magical,” said Moffatt, “but the Churchill Wild trip was the most interesting of all in terms of remoteness.  Part of the adventure was just in getting there. The whole trip was very well organized and I’d never flown in a Twin Otter before.”

Moffatt was part of group of 14 photographers and spouses involved in a trip led by professional photographer Mike Beedell.

Photographers walking with polar bears at Churchill Wild.

Walking with polar bears. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

“There were photographers of every talent level in our group,” said Moffatt. “Everyone was very  helpful. We were all united in a shared cause and it just worked.”

“We went on hikes across the tundra and saw polar bears every day, but breakfast was always a special experience. You just never knew what might be on the other side when the (polar bear protective) shutters were opened up in the morning. The bears come right up to the lodge. And an arctic fox appeared several times!”

“The food was phenomenal,” said Moffatt, impressed by being able to see desserts for later in the day being made fresh every morning in the new kitchen while they were enjoying breakfast. “And the Reimer family made fabulous hosts – ever present but never in your face.”

But what about the walking with the polar bears?

“Our guides, Andy and Tara, would scout out the polar bears in the area ahead of time and walk us out into a position where we could photograph them,” said Moffatt. “They were quite attuned to our needs as photographers. And you could definitely tell they knew the bears, the landscapes – and photographers in general. They would move us to the left and right, back and forth and they could sense when we needed something different. And it wasn’t all polar bears, there was always something different to photograph while we were wandering along — interesting landscapes, lingonberries and other plants, the shifting ice and how the sun reflected on it…”

Two items related to polar bears stood out on the trip for Moffatt. On one occasion when a polar bear got particularly close to an employee hauling water with the ATV, and another when a large male bear chased a female and her cub away from the fenced compound at the Lodge.

Polar bear bites fence at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

These teeth are real. Photo Credit: Carol Moffatt.

“It was on the final day of our trip,” said Moffatt. “A mother and her cub were just outside the compound when she sensed the presence of the big male and took off at high speed out on to the (Hudson) Bay to protect her cub. You can tell when they’re bigger than usual, and this was very large male. We also got some good close shots of the bears through the fence, but we were always very careful to keep everything out of their reach — cameras, scarves, loose clothing.”

“I’m told that Polar bears are the deadliest land animals on the planet. One of the guides said these bears can pull an 800-pound seal out of the water in one swoop. We’re the zoo animals up there with us on the inside of the compound and the animals on the outside looking at us. But I wanted a real adventure and I sure got one. The tundra buggies just wouldn’t have worked for me. The whole trip was a delight.”

She has a fridge full of photographs to prove it.

World’s largest land carnivore gets right of way as fall polar bear season begins

Big Churchill polar bear at Seal River on Hudson Bay

World's largest land carnivore has right of way here

by Andy MacPherson

The start of a new fall polar bear season!

The Turbo Beaver being busy down south, our first group of guests arrived in style in a helicopter, landing right at our front door. After settling into their rooms and taking in a brief safety orientation, we had them out viewing polar bears Churchill Wild style before lunch.

There were three bears in the immediate vicinity and all were accommodating. We were able to get close and view all three without disturbing them from their day beds. At this time of year the polar bears are focused on conserving as much energy as possible in anticipation of freeze up and the availability of their favourite meal, ringed seals, which will help them replenish their waning fat reserves.

On our way back to the lodge for lunch we discovered that the first bear we’d stopped to view earlier had ambled into the bay north of us. He was now comfortably bedded down in a bed of kelp lying on his back; stretching and playing with a piece of kelp, pulling it gently threw his teeth as if he were flossing.

After lunch we hiked out towards the west, to Swan Lake and back. We were met by a subadult bear on our way back, walking towards us up the path. He stopped when we asked him to, looking a little confused as to why we were blocking ‘His’ way.  We moved off to one side, giving him the right of way – a smart thing to do when questioned by a polar bear. He passed by at a safe distance as our hearts pounded, pausing to get a good scent of us and posing for a few great photos along the way.

We are often approached by polar bears while we are out on hikes and away from the safety and comfort of the lodge. These are always exciting moments, and important times to be very observant of bear behaviour. Every bear that approaches us acts differently based on life experiences past and present. Negative or positive, these experiences will influence the way a bear reacts to us. This initial communication will determine our response to each approaching bear. While polar bears aren’t usually vocal, they do communicate very well through subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) body language and behaviour.

We watched the bear as he moved away from us and continued down the path towards Swan Lake, our excitement at his approach subsiding slightly as we moved back on to the path. Some of the guests asked where the bear was going and what he was thinking; how old he was and how much he weighed. Others marveled at what had just happened.

The largest land carnivore on the planet, a Churchill polar bear, had just walked by us and gone about his business, whatever that might be. It just wasn’t us…

at the moment.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge season begins!

King polar bear surveys his domain.

King polar bear surveys his domain at Nanuk.

Churchill Wild has been the premier eco-outfitter in Northern Manitoba for over 40 years, but we’re always excited when polar bear watching season begins at our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, the only tourist camp along a 100-mile stretch of Hudson Bay coastline in Northern Manitoba, Canada.

One of the most pristine wilderness areas left in the world, it hasn’t changed in thousands of years. And we promise that you won’t find a better place, anywhere in the world, for close encounters with polar bears.

Read Reviews of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge at TripAdvisor.com

When the ice breaks up in June, the polar bears move ashore. During the summer months they socialize and prowl the shoreline, restlessly waiting for the ice to return. Many of these bears spend their summers within a few miles of our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. During an average season up to 400 bears pass by the Lodge.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge arrival day!

A gorgeous day at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge!

What makes this population of polar bears so unique is the high concentration of mother bears and cubs. At Nanuk, our guests will encounter polar bears, and often these will be mothers with their offspring. Many of these bears have never seen a person before, and they have the calm demeanor of bears that have not learned to fear people.

Guests who visit Nanuk count themselves among a small group of lucky individuals who have seen these majestic animals up close, undisturbed. These are not habituated “Park bears” or hunted bears that run at the sight of humans.

“We have already been in many nature places in this world. We have seen the lions in Africa; the tigers in India; the grizzlies in Alaska; orangutans in Borneo; the penguins in the Antarctic; but one of the most beautiful places is Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge with their many polar bears. We were overwhelmed to experience so many, so close. We thank the entire staff who made these special days a wonderful experience.” – Marlies & Hartmut Thierfelder and Marlies & Siegfried Neubüser, Hamburg, Germany

Polar bears everywhere! Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, Manitoba, Canada

Polar bears everywhere!

These are pure, wild polar bears living the way they have lived since time began.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about this year’s trip to Nanuk. If you would like more information about Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge please call us at: 1.204.377.5090 or Toll Free at:1.866.846.9453. You can also e-mail us at: info@churchillwild.com.

We would love to hear from you and…

Wish you were here!