Paddleboarding With Beluga Whales At The Edge Of Hudson Bay | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
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BELUGAS HAVE A PROTRUSION ON THEIR HEADS CALLED A MELON. THE MELON AIDS IN COMMUNICATION AND CHANGES SIZE AND SHAPE DURING SOUND PRODUCTION. DANIEL RAITI

Paddling and having a Whale of a Time

Churchill, Manitoba has been known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World since the 1980s. Each fall more than 12,000 tourists flock to the small frontier town (population: 899) to witness polar bears gathering, awaiting sea ice to form on Hudson Bay.

These ursine kings of the Arctic aren’t the only charismatic mega-fauna to inhabit the area. An estimated 60,000 beluga whales migrate into Hudson Bay each summer, with approximately 3,000 congregating in the estuary where the Churchill River meets the Bay. The belugas make for much friendlier paddling companions than the bears.

Kayak trips have been popular for tourists hoping to get on the water with the beautiful 1,000-pound cetaceans, however, standup paddleboarding is a new option for getting close to the playful belugas of Churchill.

Belugas are attracted to disturbances in the water, including those created by a paddle. Incredibly curious, the whales often follow the boards, eyeing up at them from just under the surface. They’ve even been known to knock paddlers off their boards with boisterous flicks of their massive white tails. Don’t worry—the gentle beluga prefers a diet of crab and cod to stinky neoprene-wrapped paddlers.

Day Trip

Paddleboard tours typically last two hours on the water. With gearing up and a safety briefing, the whole trip totals about three hours. The trips are run at low tide to give paddlers the best view of the belugas in the mouth of the warmer Churchill River, rather than out in cold Hudson Bay.

Expedition

As the only town of size for thousands of kilometers, Churchill is often the final destination for numerous northern Mani- toba river trips, including those on the Churchill River and Seal River. Multi-week trips are run commercially and by experienced adventurers, most often in tandem tripping canoes. Your best chance for seeing the aurora borealis is on clear nights, from late August to early September.

Wildlife

Whales, bears, bald eagles, moose and wolves are plentiful. Book a separate tour to visit the tundra hotspots where polar bears frequent.

Exposure

July and August are best for beluga watching. Visit in August for the best chance of seeing both belugas and polar bears. The weather is typically cool in summer—about 60°F—and it can change quickly. Dress accordingly.

Diversion

Tundra buggies are massive all-terrain vehicles hopped up on extra large tires. Frontier North Adventures’ buggies take tourists and photographers out to the bears for closer viewing, while keeping them safe from becoming dinner (www.frontiersnorth.com).

Access

The town of Churchill is accessible only by rail and air. Or you could paddle there.

Snacks

The Tundra Inn Dining Room and Pub has the best food in town. Don’t miss trivia night and open mic night.

Outfitters

Sea North Tours offer zodiac, kayak and SUP tours (www.seanorthtours. com). They include wetsuits, just in case.

Must Have

An underwater camera housing—such as pro options from Aquatech— will help you capture a beluga’s big smile, while offering top- notch protection from the near- freezing water temperatures.

 

Dustin Silvey has paddled in exotic destinations around the world as a free- lance writer and photographer. He is currently planning more adventures while pursuing his PhD in medicine, working with Indigenous youth.

 

This article originally appeared in the 2018 Annual Paddling Buyers Guide. Click here to read the full issue.

 

 

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