Beluga whales play underwater

Photo: Madison Stevens / Polar Bears International

Prepping for Beluga Season

By Kt Miller, Director of Field Programs and Relations

3 MINS

 

22 Jun 2022

The beginning of summer is a magical time in Churchill, with sea ice and river ice breaking up, wildflowers beginning to bloom on the tundra, and sunlight casting a glow across the sky, dipping below the horizon for just a few hours each day. It’s also the season when we anticipate the arrival of hundreds of beluga whales in the warm waters of the Churchill River estuary, where they’ll feed, molt, and give birth to their young. 

Tiny wildflowers on the summer Subarctic tundra

Photo: Dave Allcorn / Polar Bears International

Tiny wildflowers paint the ground as summer settles in on the Subarctic tundra.

As the ice melts on Hudson Bay and the waves begin to lap on the shore once again, our team has been busy wrapping up support for a land-based student program with the local school and finishing preparations for the summer beluga season. With summer tourism in Churchill growing and an increased interest in visiting this unique place, we are anticipating an amazing season—inspiring people to care about the Arctic through our live Beluga Cam in partnership with explore.org and sharing knowledge about polar bears at Polar Bears International House, our public interpretive center in town.

Students from Churchill school’s summer elective program

Photo: Dave Allcorn / Polar Bears International

Students from Churchill school’s summer elective program participate in land-based learning experiences relevant to the region and culture.

This year, we finally gave the Beluga Boat an official name, both for safety, and for fun! Our Churchill crew dubbed it  “Delphi,'' short for the beluga whale’s scientific name, Delphinapterus leucas. (The genus name Delphinapterus, means "dolphin without a fin." The species name leucas, means "white.")

During beluga season, which runs from mid-July until early September, we will once again be collaborating with the Assiniboine Park Conservancy on the Beluga Bits citizen science project, helping researchers learn more about beluga whales and this unique ecosystem. Be sure to tune into the live Beluga Cam July 15th for its official kick off on Arctic Sea Ice Day, and join in all summer long to see (and hear!) the amazing whales and ask questions in real time with knowledgeable locals and visiting scientists.

The first official “Delphi Selfie” with our Churchill field assistant, Dave Allcorn

Photo: Dave Allcorn / Polar Bears International

The first official “Delphi Selfie” with our Churchill field assistant, Dave Allcorn.

In another exciting first this year, our tech guru, BJ Kirschhoffer, engineered a new camera mount that will automate the lifting and lowering of the underwater camera in and out of the water. He is also working with our Churchill team to install a new underwater camera that will give our boat captains the ability to see the live underwater feed while driving the boat, thus providing a seamless recording system. This will improve the boat’s ability to support the Beluga Bits research project and other potential machine-learning and technology-based projects. These updates represent a huge leap in innovation that will greatly enhance both the operator and viewer experience as well as the quality of the research data. 

Polar Bears International House

We are so excited for our first full season since the pandemic operating the PBI House—sharing knowledge about polar bears and the special challenges they face in the summer as they come off the sea ice and swim to shore for their annual fall fast. We are also thrilled to add a few new seasonal staff members to our team, and expand our work into the summer and early fall with our new facilities and increased capacity. Stay tuned for updates throughout the summer from our home in the North.