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Beluga Whales in the Churchill

Beluga - Churchill Northern Studies Centre - Subarctic Research - Churchill Manitoba

How can I identify a Beluga?

Adult belugas are white while young calves are grey-brown in colour. As the calves mature, their colour fades to a grey-blue, and lightens to white as they approach adulthood. Western Hudson Bay belugas are the smallest of all beluga whales. Average length of adults is 3 - 4 meters (10 - 13 feet) and they weigh from 300 - 500 kilograms (657 - 1095 lbs.). Calves measure about 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length.

When is the best time to see belugas in the Churchill River estuary?

The second half of July and first half of August are generally best for beluga whale watching tours. At Cape Merry, the whales can be seen diving in great numbers at the river mouth. Participate in our non-credit course 'Belugas In The Bay' to study these intelligent creatures. During this adventure study, we venture onto the Churchill River with Sea North Tours. They are a locally owned whale watching company running the coastguard certified 'Sea North II' cruises as well as one-hour tours by zodiac, both are equipped with hydrophones to listen to the unique vocalizations of the beluga whales.

What is the life cycle of a beluga whale?

Learning Vacations - Churchill Northern Studies Centre - Polar Bears - Churchill Manitoba

Learning Vacations

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Belugas breed in the early Spring (April to June) before migrating to the Churchill area. Pods of whales usually first appear in the Churchill river estuary in early July. They remain here throughout the summer to give birth to their young and to feed on capelin and Lake Cisco fish. Gestation is 14 months and the calves are born in the following August. The calves stay with their mother for two years. In the fall, adults and their calves migrate north to the Arctic Ocean.

Interesting Facts

  • Beluga whales are among the most vocal whales in the world.
  • The beluga is the only whale with a flexible neck. (Their vertebrae remain unfused.) Sometimes, curious whales will turn and look up at you as they pass near your boat.
  • Belugas can swim an average speed of 16 -22 kilometers ( 10 - 13.5 miles) per hour, dive to depths of 600 meters (1,950 feet) and hold their breath for 15-20 minutes
  • The average life span of a Western Hudson Bay Beluga is 10 years, although some have lived as long as 30!

Indigenous Use

Beluga whales were and continue to be a traditional and very useful food source for Inuit people. Whale oil (derived from the fat) can be used for heating, lighting and storing food. The skin can be converted to dog food and the meat is transformed into muktuk, a traditional food source for Inuit people.

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