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Posts Tagged ‘swimming with beluga whales’

Make-A-Wish upon a polar bear

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Norquay boys meet polar bear!

Norquay boys meet polar bear!

Recipe for a polar bear adventure, with whales!

Start with a wish, two wonderful kids, loving parents, 12 polar bears, and endless fields of fireweed. Add a dash of Terry-O-Terry (guide), large amounts of fantastic food, and mix with thousands of beluga whales. Stir in vast amounts of chilly Hudson Bay water. Top with storytelling and fun and simmer gently with warm, cozy nights in the world’s only polar bear eco-lodge.

It comes out perfect every time!

We were blessed this season to receive a visit from Zachary Norquay, who brought along his brother Jacob, his Mom Sara and Dad Alan. I think Mom and Dad likely helped cover some of Zachary’s expenses, while energizer bunny Jacob supplied the extra power!

It was Zachary’s Make-A-Wish®  to come and see our great white bears and he elected to join us for our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure this summer. It turned out to be a fantastic choice!

Many polar bears were spotted on both the coastal hikes and the marine adventures in the Zodiaks. The beluga whales welcomed Zachary to Seal River by the thousands, and I think they would have liked to adopt him into their pods.

The lodge staff enjoyed the Norquay family’s company immensely and tried hard to help them “stowaway” on changeover day, hoping to keep them for future helpers! The family also created the thank you video below, which was very kind of them!

We all look forward to the next visit from this great family.

 

About Make-A-Wish® Canada

Make A Wish FoundationMake-A-Wish® Canada and Make-A-Wish® British Columbia & Yukon are part of the largest not-for-profit wish granting organization in the world, serving 30 countries with international affiliates on five continents (Make-A-Wish International®).

Since inception in 1980, Make-A-Wish® has helped make over 225,000 wishes come true for children around the world. Make-A-Wish® in Canada consists of eight regional Chapters and the Canada Office, which is located in Toronto, Ontario. We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.

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!

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.

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.