We started our day kayaking with the beluga whales in the estuary of the Churchill River where it empties into Hudson Bay. There were so many whales, it was hard to decide where to look. The bright white moms are still quite protective of their dark gray babies and don’t really want to play. But the lighter gray ‘teenagers’ were quite happy to hang out with us.
We both got nudged by the teenagers’ heads and one rubbed up against the underside of Kris’ kayak. Beluga whales slough off dead skin in the summer once they are out in open ocean and apparently the kayak was as good a place as any to get a back scratch.
Later in the afternoon we set out with Captain Wally in the aluminum “Sam Hearn” boat for more whale watching and a tour of the Prince of Wales Fort. The boat is 32’ long with heated cabin for the captain. Powered by triple 300hp outboards she can cruise at 24 knots and max out at over 30. The drop down nose made for very comfortable beach landings. Surprisingly the ride is very smooth. Mind you the bay was pretty glass flat.
Again, the beluga whales were just waiting for us inside the estuary. This is a fairly newborn baby, probably less than one month old. She is still stained slightly brown from Mom’s amniotic fluid and not yet grey.
Just after we left the dock, we heard the ‘crack’ of the conservation officers’ shot gun. This usually means that a bear has wandered into town. Sure enough, there was an adult male wandering around the bluffs by the port. It took a few more warning shots and a low-flying helicopter to encourage him to take to the water and swim across the Churchill River to the uninhabited side. He huffed and puffed a bit and looked ticked off, but complied with the request to go away.
Polar bears are known as Ursus Maritimus (maritime or swimming bears) as they spend more time in the water than they do on land or on sea ice. They can swim huge distances and are very buoyant due to their large amount of fat. They paddle mostly with their front paws and put their back paws together to form a rudder.
At Eskimo Point we found a mama bear with her yearling cub. Both were very healthy looking – for a polar bear, that means fat! They don’t eat much in the summer when they come to land from the melting sea ice, so they need to have as much fat reserve as possible at the beginning of the summer season. They didn’t seem to mind that we were checking them out, but that baby stuck pretty close to mom!
The tour concluded with a very mosquito-laden tour of the fort. The Prince of Wales Fort was built to defend the town and its fur trade against (mostly) the French, and anyone else who wanted in on the enterprise. And the fort was manned for a lot of the Cold War, in case the Russians came over the arctic into northern Canada.
As ridiculous as these look, our new bug jackets were a huge godsend combatting the Northern Manitoba Mosquito Bird. They grow them big up here. They are the size of black flies and have attitude to match.