Churchill is located on the shore of Hudson Bay, in the Province of Manitoba, and is blessed with many beluga whales that travel down from the Arctic Ocean, through the bay, to the Churchill River. 60,000 Beluga Whales inhabit the Western Hudson Bay region and an estimated 3000-5000 of those are found at Churchill. In the wild, a beluga’s lifespan is 15 years however some whales have reached the age of 40 or 50 years!
So, why do the beluga whales make this long journey? There are two reasons. One is to give birth to their young (calf) which means you have a good chance to see baby belugas when you are whale watching with Sea North Tours. The other is to feed on abundant fish such as capelin that flourishes here in the summer. These wonderful creatures will begin to arrive around mid June. In our subarctic fall, which can begin at the end of August, the belugas migrate north to wintering areas in the Hudson Strait. The Hudson Strait offers open water areas surrounded by sea ice called polynia. These open water areas are necessary for the belugas so they can surface to breathe.
Beluga whales have no dorsal fin and therefore can live under the sea ice while still surfacing for air. A beluga can hold its breath for 20 minutes.
Beluga whales are one of the most vocal whales in the WORLD! They use sound to navigate, echolocate and communicate. Sea North Tours is equipped with Aquarian H1A hydrophones enabling our guests to listen to them sing while on our tour. Their vocalizations have earned them the nickname “sea canaries”.
They are able to create such a wide variety of sounds due to the tissue in their large, bulbous forehead, called a melon, which is used to create and amplify sounds in the marine environment. The sounds have been described as whistles, squeals, moos, chirps, and clicks.
Beluga whales have flexible lips that can form smiles. Because they have flexible necks they can move their heads in many directions. You will witness this as the belugas turn their heads to look at you when you are on our boats. They communicate through facial expressions, sounds and behaviour such as breaching and slapping the water.
So, what is a whale? Whales are mammals giving birth to live young and they have belly buttons like other mammals. They breathe air and have a thick layer of blubber to help them store energy and keep them warm. Belugas are the only white whales and beluga means the “white one” in Russian. They are born grey-brown and turn white as they mature. Beluga whales have rounded front, or pectoral, fins and they lack a dorsal fin, unlike most other whales. They have a very prominent, bulging forehead and a short, blunt snout. A mature male can grow to be three to four meters long (10 to 13 feet), weighing anywhere from 450 to 1,000 kilograms (990 to 2200lbs). Female belugas range from 250 to 700 kilograms (550 to1540 lbs).