These amazing images from Churchill were taken last week by Natural Habitat Adventures guide Eddy Savage while exploring the tundra and water around the area. This particular group literally found some treasure under a rainbow when they came across a caribou on the tundra. Other incredible beluga whale encounters were quite close up with the zodiacs. A beautiful red fox was quite inquisitive toward the group and posed for some of the best shots we have seen in a long time.
This aeriel video footage by Brian Fergusson gives us an idea of the incredible numbers of beluga whales in the waters surrounding the town of Churchill. The Hudson Bay and the Churchill River are filled with belugas and their young calves. The whales migrate from the north and spend the summer months in these estuaries all along the southern Hudson Bay coastline. Churchill has become the prime destination for travelers to view the pods of whales from zodiacs, kayaks and even snorkel with the mammals in the cool water. There’s no other accessible point to view thousands of belugas in such a condensed area and Churchill provides the infrastructure to comfortably partake in whale viewing excursions.
This photograph of a beluga whale pod feeding on capelin in the Churchill River illustrates how focused these mammals are when taking on a task. When they feed they will ignore any whale watching boats. However when they have had their fill the whales will become extremely focused on the zodiacs and bigger boats and become very curious. Biding time on the water while the beluga’s get their fill is certainly worth the wait!
Beluga whales concentrating on getting capelin. Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
Churchill beluga whale watching operators breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ruled that the recently proposed minimum distance regulations for observing belugas on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay would not be enforced for the coming summer season. A proposed 50 meter restriction was to apply to all vessels observing whales on the water. DFO was citing research recently conducted with results showing minimal contact with whales would be beneficial to them in their feeding and calving behavior.
Researchers have obviously not spent much time observing the whales interacting with tour operators vessels in Churchill. Having spent over 10 seasons with groups of travelers out on the Churchill River and Hudson Bay, I have seen the behavior in just about every situation many times over. Beluga whales are curious beings and when they are not feeding or tending to their calves they love to approach and follow boats of all sizes. Zodiacs in particular are favorites for the whales with their low throttle. The whales seem happy settling into the slipstream created by the outboard motor and often approach close enough without prompting for one to reach in the water and touch the melon of a beluga.
So, without hesitation, I can firmly state that beluga whales are safe around whale watching boats in Churchill. They are adept enough to avoid a boat traveling at fairly high speed though this practice is quite unusual for anyone out to view the whales. The video below highlights the behavior that beluga whales exhibit with no fear. Good job DFO!