Beluga whales gather in Hudson Bay near
Churchill every summer when the pack ice
has broken. Nowhere else in the world you
will see so many of them – up to 60,000!
This ‘Beluga-Boarding’ tour takes us to the Canadian tundra, where we get up close to the belugas in their natural habitat, without stressing the animals. The curious whales decide whether they come to us or not. But visitors quickly realize: there is nothing better for the curious belugas than checking out closely what the strange creatures are doing there. Whether by kayak, on a board or in an inflatable boat. It often doesn’t take long for the whales to get close.
Swimming or diving with whales and dolphins has unfortunately not been allowed in Canada since 2018, so this is no longer possible as it was before.
The white whales come to the sheltered estuary of the Churchill river in the summer to give birth to their young and to spend time with their conspecifics, whom they otherwise may not or only rarely meet in the vastness of the Arctic all year round.
And even if it is for the belugas that we come to Churchill for, another highlight of the tour are undoubtedly the numerous polar bears that spend the summer here waiting for the bay to freeze over again and leave and hunt seals on the pack ice. Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of North America and overall the coexistence between humans and bears is going quite well. However, polar bears that come to the town are regularly caught and spend a while in a “polar bear prison” before being released back into the wild, far away from toen. The aim of the campaign is to give the bears an unpleasant impression of the place. An effective measure that in the end may have saved the lives of many bears and perhaps even people.
But back to the belugas: on the boat trips, floating platforms are pulled behind the boat. You lie on these “boards” in your diving suit and you can watch the belugas approach with your camera and mask/head underwater. Actually, this method worked very well even before the diving ban with whales and dolphins came and many photos in the gallery where taken when the photographer was being dragged behind the boat.
Churchill is remote and cannot be reached by car. It is all the more surprising that there is a train connection. If you decide to travel by train, this is an experience in itself. The journey through the Canadian tundra, which can be admired from the train window, takes just under two days.
This type of journey makes you aware of the remoteness as well as the vastness of the landscape here. Alternatively, there is a connection by plane. A small local airline offers regular flights from Winnipeg to Churchill.
Andy receives the guests on site and accompanies the tour. He has many years of experience with diving, and now also with boarding with the belugas. In addition, he has a license to work as a guide in the province of Manitoba and can therefore lead the regular excursions to observe wild animals himself.
Price per person
from 3,450 Euro
Important information - diving
Beluga boarding is a way of gently getting close to the animals in their habitat. Of course it has little to do with diving and you don’t need a diving license or previous experience.
With a diving suit, snorkel and mask you lie on the platform and watch or photograph the whales underwater. The platform is pulled by a rubber dinghy and the extremely curious animals follow the platform and come straight towards it. In terms of experience, this activity certainly does not have to shy away from the comparison with a “classic” dive with whales!
For photographing the belugas we recommend cameras with wide-angle and no flash. Action cams also usually give good pictures. The visibility varies, however, as we are here in a river mouth.
The water temperature usually is around 10 to 12°C (50 to 54°F) in the summer.