A baby beluga in a pod in Churchill River

Photo: Kieran McIver / Polar Bears International

A baby beluga whale and its pod in the Churchill River.

Wrapping up Beluga Season

By Captain Kieran McIver



22 Aug 2023

As we near the end of another Beluga Cam season, I can’t help but be surprised how quickly it has come and gone. After seven seasons spent on the water, you’d think I’d be used to this. Seeing the whales leave Churchill at the end of each season is always hard. The feeling is bittersweet as I watch the belugas slowly reduce in number as they return North for another year. 

Every year in Churchill, Manitoba, during July and August the Churchill River and the surrounding shorelines of the Hudson Bay spring to life. Beluga whales numbering in the thousands migrate from their northern wintering grounds, and for a few short weeks they call Churchill home. On the Beluga Cams, we frequently observe the whales feeding on shoals of capelin, and frequently spot newborn calves. 

August is such a special month in Churchill. The consistently good weather makes whale-watching exceptional, and witnessing the transition into the fall is always a beautiful time of year in the North. In addition, August is usually our best opportunity during the summer to view polar bears, and so far this year we’ve seen an unusual number due to an early ice breakup on Hudson Bay. In fact, Churchill’s Polar Bear Alert team has already had over 75 calls about polar bear sightings in and around the town, a dramatic increase from 18 calls at this point last year. 

During their fasting period the bears do their best to conserve energy while waiting for the sea ice to return, and on several occasions, polar bears have been spotted from the boat resting on the shoreline or in the water cooling themselves in the chilly waters of the Hudson Bay. 

In the coming days I will do my best to enjoy the moment and soak in the time I have left with the whales before bidding them farewell for another year. As the seasons change and the weather begins to cool, I will shift all my focus to the polar bears, hoping for a long and cold winter for them. I will pack away the boat, and dust off Buggy One in preparation for fall “polar bear season,” when the bears congregate on the shoreline and patiently wait for the sea ice to form. Once on the ice, the bears will be free to pursue their prey and fatten up before returning to land where they will wait out another fasting period. And in no time at all, I will be back on the Beluga Boat scratching my head and wondering where yet another summer has gone.

About the Beluga Cams

Starting July 15 on Arctic Sea Ice Day, Polar Bears International in partnership with explore.org launches the Beluga Boat. The nineteen-foot welded aluminum vessel is outfitted with an above-water camera, an underwater camera, and a hydrophone. Viewers can tune in to the live broadcasts to see the whales in their natural habitat and enjoy their wide range of clicks and whistles, which has earned them the nickname, “canaries of the sea.”

The tour times coincide with the high tide and fluctuate daily. The schedule can be viewed on the explore.org message board in the featured comment section of the Beluga Cam page.

Throughout the summer various guests join the captain and share their expertise on a wide range of topics using the mics on-board the boat. Viewers tuning in can post questions, comments, or snapshots on the message board and receive answers from the captain and guests in real time.

This year the cams will run through August 26. We hope you can join us on the water, and we look forward to seeing you there! 

Kieran McIver is Polar Bears International’s Churchill field operations manager.