Beluga Whale Watching
Private Charters Get down close and personal with the whales.
In summertime, the Hudson Bay and Churchill River are alive with Beluga whales. These small Cetaceans, although technically whales, resemble porposes in both size and general appearance. They are born gray, but turn snow white at maturity. They are friendly and curious and allow people to swim among them, although harrassing these animals is illegal. These whales, known to be the most vocal, are also known as "sea canaries."
During summertime, Sea North Tours runs a daily standard boat tour that takes visitors out onto the Churchill River in a small tour boat to whale-watch from a deck that sits fairly close to the water. Time of day depends upon the tides. Sometimes the boat goes out in the evening, other times, in the late morning. The hour varies daily. Groups are divided in half. While one half goes whale-watching on the Churchill River, the others have already been taken out across Hudson Bay to to Eskimo Point, the flower-covered penninsula across Churchillk River on which stands historic old Fort Prince of Wales.
The pier from which Sea North Tours departs and returns is in the industrial, built-up section of the Churchill River. Under a patina of golden sunset, it has a certain beauty. In bright daylight, not so attractive. Most of the tour takes us well away from the Harbor/port buildings, out onto the wide open river at high tide, and to the relatively unspoiled Eskimo Point.
An armed Parks Canada ranger will accompany visitors to Fort Prince of Wales. Perhaps I should explain that local rangers carry a fairly serious-looking sidearm because Fort Prince of Wales is considered a very dangerous Provincial park. Presumably these park rangers' job is to take potshots at any big white furball that happen to be lurking behind a boulder, ogling well-fed tourists as potential snack food.
Upon arrival, by boat, you will be told not to wander beyond the landing dock until the ranger serving as your guide has finished inspecting the island for unwelcome visitors who might have swam in.
The old fort isn't a bad place to while away an hour or so. The roof has rotted off, and the interior turns out to be a more of a stone fenced-in meadow than an actual enclosure. After about an hour or so, visitors are led back to the dock and the boat arrives. It is then your turn to whale watch, and it's the other group's turn to spend time on Fort Prince of Wales island.
To find out about boat tours, call Sea North Tours (204)675-2195. Unlike the polar bear season, arrangements can be made once you get there. Sea North Tours A tour, at 7/96 prices, cost $45 CDN. I am told that e-mailing to that region is unreliable, so if you try and do not get an answer, don't be offended. Just telephone.
To REALLY get down close to the whales, you--alone or with friends--can privately charter a zodiac from the same people. The hourly rate as of 7/96 was $130 CDN. A Zodiac will hold up to eight people, and it comes with a guy familiar with the river currents who captains it. If you tell the tour people in advance that you'll want to go swimming, the man who takes you out will choose the zodiac with the attached steps. They are very agreeable people.
|Manford helped me down into the water. I had always wanted to swim among whales or dolphins, a visitor to their own habitat. Now was my chance. Not only whales, but among what could be the most beautiful, musical and rare Cetaceans on the planet. I wasn't afraid, because these whales are known to be friendly and curious. A group of them will often cluster around a zodiac or boat.|
Beluga whales measure from 16 feet in length and seven feet in girth. They have rather small mouths because they eat fish-primarily capelins, a marine species. Most of the time they live in the ocean, coming into the Churchill River in July, to give birth. The Churchill region has the largest population of healthy Beluga whales left in the world. The species is in trouble further south, in James Bay, due to pollution and other human encroachments.
The water was crisp but not cold--downright balmy compared to the water I would experience a few days later when I ran into Hudson Bay as a participant in the Parks Canada Hudson Bay Dip and Relay Race. In July, you do not need a wetsuit to swim in Churchill River, at least not for short periods of time on warm days. If you plan to spend extended time in the water, you would need one.
It was a thrill to be there in with these beautiful snow-white whales. I heard them singing around me in the water. Unfortunately the Churchill River has a natural murkiness that makes seeing them difficult or impossible while you are in with them. Once in the water, I began to notice that the Churchill River at high tide is at least a mile wide, deep enough that whales could swim under me, and it has a definite, somewhat disconcerting current. I began to question my sanity in getting in there in the first place, much less lingering there, considering that I am a lousy swimmer who depends upon body fat to keep me afloat. After a few minutes, Manford helped me back into the Zodiac. I am glad I did it, but intend to be fitter and more practiced as a swimmer before I do it again. And I shall.
Go to Birdwatching
Go to Botanizing
Go to Geological Treasures
Go to The regional ecology
Go to Polar Bear High Season
Go to The Great Hudson Bay Dip and Relay Race Done yearly.
Go to Co-existing with the Wildlife
Return to Churchill, the town.
Return to Churchill Region Introduction. Revised 3/10/00