Most of the time, polar bears overshadow other arctic wildlife on our Churchill Wild adventures. Beluga whales are another species prevalent around Churchill in the summer however, and since they’re a popular part of our Birds, Bears & Belugas adventure, we thought it might be nice to share with you a few things that we find interesting about these friendly-faced mammals.
While you likely know that beluga whales are white, it’s unlikely you’re aware that the name ‘beluga’ comes from the Russian word “Belukha” which means white.
Beluga whales are also known as “sea canaries” due to the unique and varied sounds they make. On our Birds, Bears & Belugas adventure at Seal River Heritage Lodge, we offer guests a chance to snorkel with the belugas, and those who have done so can testify to the fact that humming and chirping attract these friendly creatures!
Ghostly White - Beluga Whales in Hudson Bay
Baby belugas are born gray and turn white as they age. Due to their darker color, they are thought to be more difficult to spot by predators such as polar bears and killer whales. Most belugas are completely white around the age of 13 when sexual maturity is reached.
Belugas are very sociable and as such, their sense of touch is very important. It is not unusual for belugas to come close enough to the boats and snorkelers to be touched.
Beluga whales undergo a seasonal molt, unlike other cetaceans which shed continuously. They rub against rocky river bottoms to shed their skin, which could be why they’re often found in shallow water in the summertime.
Belugas, like other toothed whales, have a life expectancy of 30-40 years, nearly half that of the average life expectancy of most baleen whales.
Beluga Ballet - Photo Credit: Kike Calvo
In the summer, belugas are often found in warm-water estuaries and river basins, making our Lodge, located near the Seal River estuary, an ideal place to view them.
The seven vertebrae in a beluga’s neck are not fused, which gives them the ability to turn their heads and even nod!
The lack of a dorsal fin enables beluga whales to swim just below ice sheets to locate breathing holes. Their lack of a dorsal fin also means less surface area, minimizing heat loss when in Arctic waters.
Spot the difference: Male belugas can be distinguished from females by the upward curve at the top of their flippers as well as by their size. Adult males can weigh up to 1500 kg, while mature females weigh in at about 1350 kg.
Churchill Wild eco-lodge owners Mike and Jeanne Reimer say the Obama and Doer families would be more than welcome to do just that at their Seal River Heritage Lodge 40 miles north of Churchill on the Hudson Bay coast.
“It’s the only place in Canada where you can actually go out and walk with the polar bears in their natural environment,” said Mike Reimer, who has been stomping the terra with the polar bears for over 30 years. “We would absolutely love to have the Obama and Doer families visit our polar bear eco-lodges and take part in all the activities we have to offer.”
Polar bear intently watching Hudson Bay outside Seal River Lodge
That of course, would include walking with polar bears on the coast of Hudson Bay and snorkeling with beluga whales in Hudson Bay, not to mention eating gourmet meals straight from the award-winning cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears, which were co-written by Jeanne Reimer’s mother Helen Webber of Webber’s Lodges.
Helen is married to Webber’s Lodges owner and former Churchill mayor Doug Webber. She is certainly no stranger to hosting dignitaries at the Webber’s home in Churchill and preparing spectacular feasts for them, including Ambassador Doer when he was Premier of Manitoba,
First Lady Michelle Obama, who is promoting healthy eating as her platform while in the White House, would likely enjoy herself immensely in Churchill Wild’s family-run tundra kitchen, which prides itself on utilizing the freshest ingredients available from the surrounding landscapes.
Mrs. Obama launched her Let’s Move initiative to battle childhood obesity and improve the quality of food in U.S. schools in February, 2010 and on March 16, 2011 she reached an agreement with Crown Publishing Group to author a cookbook in which she will talk about the garden she established on the South Lawn of the White House. Due out in 2012, Mrs. Obama’s new cookbook will also explore how improved access to fresh, locally grown food can promote healthier eating habits for families and communities. You can watch the video about the White House Garden here.
“Last year we built the new dining room,” said Reimer. “Right now we’re hauling in a new gourmet kitchen. It was designed by Len Friesen and it will be the first of its kind in the arctic. We’re planning on having a Celebrity Chef Contest at some point with a combination of original creations and recipes from the Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbooks that will feature seal, caribou, moose, goose, arctic char, northern pike, lake trout, local plant garnishes, wild blueberries, cranberries and strawberries. In between cooking sessions we’ll be out on the tundra with the polar bears or swimming with whales. We would love for Mrs. Obama to participate!”
But seriously, fabulous food and cooking contests aside, what about safety and secret service and fighter planes?
Polar bear in fireweed. Photo Credit: Dennis Fast
“We’ve never had a polar bear problem in the 30 years that we’ve operated our lodges,” said Reimer. “It’s a unique, once in a lifetime experience and our guests love being able to get up close and personal with the polar bears. It’s one of the few places on earth where you can actually go out and walk with the bears, and there are numerous safety measures in place. I’m not sure what the bears would think of secret service agents and jet fighters. They probably wouldn’t even notice.”
Still, try to imagine the Turbo Beaver taking off from Churchill for Seal River Lodge accompanied by fighter jets. Or the curious looks on the polar bears’ faces when the secret service agents arrive with the Obama family. And what kind of boat would be required if the Obama and Doer families decided to go swimming with the beluga whales? Would the Zodiaks suffice?
“It would something very special for us,” said Reimer. “We would like to extend a heartfelt open invitation to both the Obama and the Doer families to visit Seal River Lodge any time. It would be an incredible honor.”
Spectacular polar bear viewing, fabulous guests and a beautiful new dining room make for wondrous summer on Hudson Bay Coast
Thursday, 21 October, 2010 00:26Written by Polar Bears with Pens
Unbelievable, wow, incredible, spectacular, best ever, life changing, beyond expectations, and the list goes on – we can never quite identify the right superlative to describe this past season at Churchill Wild!
Once again the guest book is full of great comments and wondrous praises heaped upon our hard working staff and the awesome Churchill Wild polar bear experience they provide. Thank you to all our new found friends, who traveled from all corners of the globe this year, for making the time and financial commitment to join us on the Hudson Bay coast.
It’s difficult to look back over the crazy exciting busyness of this summer season and identify the highlights – there were so many! One of the most important accomplishments was the completion of the new dining room, with its huge viewing windows looking out over the Bay, a new roof, a new tower access, new decks, and new staff quarters.
I get tired just thinking about all the work that had to be done to see that beautiful building standing there. Yvan and
New Seal River Lodge dining room completed!
crew pulled off another miracle, from planning the project last season, to ordering and shipping materials by train to Churchill in January, then spending two weeks in March dragging freight over the frozen sea to the Lodge and finally back in June with the construction crew to build like madmen so we could be ready for first guests in July. Wow! And now we start the whole process all over again – Jeanne has “assured” all of us that she is getting her new kitchen next year.
Our summer Birds, Bears, and Belugas adventure might well have been called Bears, Bears, and Bears as we enjoyed some of the finest summer polar bear action on the planet. Seal River has always been a mecca for polar bears coming off the ice in July, but this year was nothing short of incredible.
One afternoon aerial tour spotted over 100 bears within 30 kilometers of Seal River, numbers which were certainly confirmed by the daily bear action at the Lodge. And the whales continue to enthrall intrepid snorkelers with their charming attention to the strange creatures invading their watery domain. Interactive singing opportunities brought out the creative in everyone. And although it was difficult to tell which whale “whisperer” had the best tune, it was fairly obvious that our whale friends enjoy listening to a well gurgled tune.
A beautiful summer day on Hudson Bay!
This past year Churchill Wild also completed the purchase and expansion of the Canada’s newest and most exciting polar bear destination, the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge located near Cape Tatnum. Cape Tatnum is home to the greatest concentration of summer polar bears on earth and is also near the site of a recently discovered polar bear denning area, not to mention fantastic wolf viewing, countless moose, and a bird migration beyond number. This will undoubtedly become the finest wild polar bear adventure in our ever-expanding stable of great polar bear trips, on par with the great African wildlife safaris of years gone by. Please plan to join us!
A big heartfelt thanks to all our wonderful guests for making Seal River Lodge a fabulous place to be this summer! We couldn’t have done it without you. Now it’s time for the Great Ice Bear Tour and the Polar Bear Photo Safari.
We hope you can join us again someday soon!
– Mike & Jeanne Reimer & Family
Churchill Wild’s remote polar bear lodges featured in Financial Post as one of Canada’s elite adventure vacation destinations
Saturday, 07 August, 2010 17:00Written by Polar Bears with Pens
Polar bear in fireweed - Photo Credit: Dennis Fast
Churchill Wild’s remote polar bear ecolodges on the Hudson Bay Coast were featured in the Financial Post as “the” cool adventure vacation spots for viewing polar bears, swimming with beluga whales and enjoying culinary delights! The article, entitled, At their leisure, also talks about where people are spending their money on holidays and includes vacation ideas from Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
Below are a few excerpts of what the Financial Post had to say about Churchill Wild.
“Roughing it in style is the vacation trend du jour. At the Seal River Heritage eco-lodge on the Hudson Bay Coast, Manitoba’s happy few explore the depths of nature by day in one of the planet’s most rugged environments. Then it’s nice nights with gourmet fare and proper drinks in a chic wilderness outpost.”
“It takes time – and money – to get there. After a flight to Churchill, it’s a 30-minute transfer by Turbo beaver float plane to the 12-room hand-made lodge completely lost in the tundra. Remote yes, but animal-wise, this is where the action is. Stalk polar bears near the Seal River estuary or swim or snorkel with the belugas, then come back to the lodge to embark on a culinary adventure.”
“The gourmet fare prepared by Helen Webber, matriarch of the foodie family who own the lodge, makes the 100-mile diet seem so south of the 49th parallel. Almond-crusted lake trout, slow-roasted barbeque caribou sandwiches and cranberry cake with warm butter sauce, are examples of her dinners sourced from within walking distance. Guests have been so impressed with the food that they insisted Ms. Webber do a cookbook. Her Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbook was the first of what would become a series and a Canadian bestseller.”
In our first week of Birds, Bears and Belugas we spotted not just polar bears but also sandhill cranes, lots of wolves (with cubs!) two moose and a large numbers of beluga whales.
Our first meal interruption occurred last week when a polar bear showed up just as everyone was coming into the dining room for breakfast. We’ve been getting the boats in the water on a regular basis morning and night, weather and tides permitting.
Guests had a fabulous trip by boat to Hubbard Point, 77 kilometres Northwest of Churchill on the Hudson Bay Coast. It was almost too foggy to see but we still saw seven polar bears at close range and had one of our best beluga whale swims ever!
Handed out the first certificates of the season on July 27 and everyone is leaving happy!