It wasn’t a dare that made me jump into into the frigid 7 °C water of Hudson Bay, but I did it anyway. And then I stayed (zipped into a 7mm thick wetsuit, mind you) swimming around a Zodiak boat for the next half hour. I’m not the world’s biggest animal lover and I sure hate cold swimming pools, but when you’ve got an opportunity for a belly-to-belly experience with beluga whales you take it, freezing water and all. I’m talking about going on an arctic safari in Churchill, Manitoba, the polar bear capital of the world. Forget Africa! Here you can snorkel and kayak with beluga whales and even view arctic fox and polar bears. Here’s everything you need to know about Churchill polar bear tours (and kayaking with beluga whales) in summer.
What most folks don’t realize is that come summer, the tiny town of Churchill becomes an outpost for beluga encounters, as well as polar bears, who skulk around waiting for the ice to freeze. Each June anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 belugas make their way into the warmer waters of the Churchill River from Hudson Bay to give birth and hang with their newborns until mid-September.
Snorkel with beluga whales in Canada
Slipping into the water isn’t as dramatic as I feared. It’s bracing for a few seconds, but then my wetsuit traps the water and it feels weirdly warm. Kind of like when somebody pees next to you in a pool. It’s been windy and the water is murky, but there’s no mistaking the ghost-like shape headed our way.
As I swim around the Zodiak, more and more of these curious mammals pop by. Now I get why they’re nicknamed sea canaries. We hear their squeals and buzzes underwater. They gracefully move under the boat and even alongside us. It’s a surreal feeling to be swimming with a whale, even more so when their air bubbles rise up from underneath us and tap our wetsuits. We don’t want to get out of the water, but our guide from Sea North Tours insists we come in. There’s been a development.
Churchill polar bear tours
While we were out frolicking in the river, our guide received a call. A female polar bear and her cub have been spotted on the coast, not far from where we are. The engine is revved and we’re off, furiously assembling camera gear in the hopes we’ll get the shot of a lifetime.