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!