I am in Churchill, Manitoba. For most Canadians, Churchill is synoamous with polar bears. However, I am here to see the beluga whales. Yes, I could have saved myself a lot of money by going whale watching in the St Lawrence River; but that beluga population is small and is threatened. There are lots of them in Hudson Bay. The belugas migrate to the mouth of several rivers in the Hudson Bay to feed, to give birth, to mate, to shed dead skin, and to avoid killer whales.
The Churchill River estuary is one of those places. It is estimated that 4000 to 5000 belugas come each year. Belugas are naturally curious and they are not a deep diving species. That means they are available for viewing. It is not unusual to see a dozen in just a casual glance. The photo below was taken from a whale watching boat. In addition to the three in the foreground, there are also 2 specs of white (whales) in the background.
I had 3 opportunities to see the belugas, from a whale watching boat, from a kayak, and from a zodiac. The whales will approach the boat. The 2 photos below were taken by my roommate and we were in Hudson Bay where the water is more clear. The normal procedure is to approach the whales and then wait. Most belugas would ignore us or leave. Some would swim around or under us and then proceed on their way. Some would stay to check us out for a minute. These moments are magical.
Although almost impossible to take photos, kayaking with the belugas was the best. The only problem is that the belugas like to follow in the wake. That means a lot of activities happened behind my back. Even if someone else told me, they would be gone by the time I turn around. However, there is something special to quietly paddle around and all the sudden, there was the sound of whale puff nearby. My closest encounter happened when a beluga swam straight at me. It saw me the last minute and did a deep dive to avoid me. I was within 3 feet of being hit by a beluga.
That is it for whale watching. Today is a day for visiting Churchill, bird watching, and see if we can find a polar bear. Churchill is a quirky place. More about it later.