Into the Wild: Beluga Whales in Churchill

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Churchill, Manitoba

I have traveled to many places around the world but I really don’t know much about my own country. Most Canadians are a bit snobbish about the Prairies, claiming there is nothing to see.

I had no idea what to expect when Travel Manitoba invited me to come for a week and see beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba but was really intrigued to go up north as I’ve never been more than 200km from the US border.

Eagerness aside, I was still apprehensive about Churchill. I would never describe myself as a nature lover. I don’t really camp. I have decided I hate hiking. I definitely do not seek out birds with binoculars.

caribou

Hayley, our Frontiers North guide, explained to us that there were no roads to Churchill and the town restaurants order food two weeks in advance so if we order caesar salad and it comes with iceberg lettuce that was just part of their reality. Fortunately caribou was available and I was happy to try it for the first time.

 

Delicious!

 

But Churchill has overwhelmed me in so many ways. The town is so small and many tourists would consider it underdeveloped for tourism sneering at their lack of supposed sophistication.

But this is where Churchill does things right.

 

Over the last year and a half I have visited so many towns that exist solely for tourism and become Disney-like characters of their once reality. Fishing villages become marred with 5-star hotels and beach cabanas that charge you ten times as much for that manufactured authentic experience.

 

I hate it.

 

But here in Churchill, instead of feeling like you are a parasite. You are a visitor in a town that already exists. There is no theme park to amuse you or 10-course tasting menu. There is an open-mic night at the local pub but that’s as developed as it gets.

 

I love it here.

 

It means locals don’t look at you with disdain, thinking you are a tick that burrows into their skin they have learned to accept. Here people seem genuinely happy to welcome you to their home.

There are no tourist restaurants and regular restaurants, there are only a handful of restaurants and everyone eats there.

beluga whales

Our first day we went out onto the water to see beluga whales. While Churchill is most famous for its polar bear population, thousands of beluga whales migrate here in the summer to feed, give birth and molt their skin.

As soon as we stopped the boat these gigantic creatures swam up to the boat, curious to see who was on their territory. It was incredible to see wildlife so close.

On the way back home in the boat we somehow caught ourselves next to a group of bulls barreling down the river after food, it was like a scene from Wild Kingdom. I cannot express the exhilaration to be caught up in this moment of nature, like you were an insider witnessing something really special.

 

 

Whether you call yourself a tourist or traveler we are all seeking this elusive authentic, slice of life experience, and it’s ironic that I had to come back to my own country to find it.

I am so excited for this next week, to explore land that I never thought I’d visit. I came home exhausted from travel but discovering my own country is amazing has rejuvenated me.

 

Join the Conversation

  1. That sounds like an amazing experience. I am fascinated by whales. I probably wouldn’t be able to stop singing “Baby Beluga” by Raffi…It was my favorite song as a kid.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I won’t lie, I did sing that song to myself more than a few times.

  2. The Dropout says:

    I love traveling to friendly small country towns. There’s nothing like a country welcome (and country food)… whales and other wildlife are an amazing bonus, you lucky thing, you.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yep the town is famous for the whales but still manages to keep its small town charm. I am really lucky.

  3. What a wonderful experience! I would love to go whale watching. And it must have been refreshing to visit a genuine town instead of one that’s tourist driven.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Really refreshing and nice to know its in my own country.

  4. Angela FRS says:

    I just found your blog and having been reading your adventures in reverse chronology. Loving it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Wow thanks, I hope you enjoy the last 15 months!

  5. Camels & Chocolate says:

    Are you KIDDING me? Belugas in the wild? That is, quite simply, AMAZING. Manitoba was never on my radar, but it is now!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know I’m Canadian and it wasn’t even on my radar, so foolish!

  6. flipnomad says:

    amazing!!! i only see them on Nat geo and Discovey… must be really awesome to see animals in their natural habitat….

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It was like being on one of those shows, so incredible.

  7. Lovely experience, your photos are great!

  8. Jeremy Branham says:

    I’ve never seen Beluga whales so that is pretty awesome! I think there is a lot of undiscovered things about Manitoba. Honestly, I’ve heard of it but don’t anything about it all. The only thing I know about the area is that they just got a hockey team back! 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yes it’s a huge deal to get the Winnipeg Jets. It was sad they lost them in the first place because the attendance was so good, it was just the owner wanted to sell.

  9. Roy Marvelous | cruisesurfingz says:

    That’s awesome! I want someone to invite me to go see Beluga whales in the wild 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well make some friends in Churchill because all the belugas are there!

  10. That is the perfect type of travelling! I’ve seen orcas, dugongs and dolphins, but not belgas! Wow…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      What is a dugong?

  11. I love that video! So cool! I’ve never seen them in the wild before but I have pet one in Marine Land. So amazing, that just made me want to go to Churchill even more!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Marine Land and other aquariums make me sad, but that’s another post…

  12. You got me with the food picture…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      If you haven’t tried caribou put it on your list!

  13. I’m with Roy….I want that invitation! Glad you are continuing to find adventure right in your backyard. Sometimes those are the best ones to have.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know, just comparing the landcapes in Canada has been so wonderful.

  14. Gene Bowker says:

    When I think Churchill, I think Polar Bears.

    Great story about finding out more about what is close to home.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I had no idea they were there either but in the summer there are so many of them.

  15. Churchill sounds great to me. Belugas and polar bears, hard to beat that…

  16. Very cool! My friend actually lives and works there on the polar bear tours.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh really, her name isn’t Hayley is it?

  17. Debbie Beardsley says:

    I had only heard of Churchill for the polar bears! Belugas would be awesome. Sound like you had a great time. I agree it is amazing discovery new things in your own backyard.

    I’m waiting for my invitation anywhere too 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I had no idea about the belugas either, everyone knows about the polar bears but this is an amazing summer experience.

  18. Gareth Leonard says:

    Why didn’t you jump in?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Who says I didn’t….

  19. Fantastic! I’ve never been to Manitoba, but I love the idea of it. And believe me — the idea of a place totally unfettered by tourist traps and theme parks and such is enormously appealing. This is coming from a gal who lives 45 minutes from Disneyland!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh now that is hell…

  20. Don Faust says:

    Beluga whales are so cool. Not sure when you were there, but did you get to see some polar bears? They normally come ashore in July, as the ice continues to melt. I’d love to visit there and take the tundra buggy.

    By the way, most Americans haven’t seen their country either.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh you know so much about the North! I don’t want to spoil upcoming posts but let’s just say there may be a photo of a polar bear…

  21. The Travel Chica says:

    Cool video and photos! Sounds like an incredible experience.

    I also feel like there is so much of the US I haven’t seen. I know there are so many amazing places left for me to explore which is a good thing. I know that when I return, I cannot complain of boredom or lack of adventure or beauty.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      When I posted about Chile I realized there were so many amazing things in the US that I also want to see, I love the desert.

  22. Matthew Karsten says:

    I want one. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Wouldn’t fit in your bath tub 🙂

  23. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    Belugas!!! OMG did you freak out when you saw them? They are such gorgeous creatures.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You know I’m so fickle I didn’t think it would be a big deal but then when they approached I was giddy like a little kid.

  24. Amazing…! Churchill is high on my list but the cost is so high…and you have to go twice! Once to see polar bears and once for the belugas. Sounds amazing and worth the cost though.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The costs to fly are high but actually when we were there there was a group of Girl Guides who took the train. It takes a couple of days but I think worth the savings.

  25. I love the way home surprises you. It’s a great reminder of why you still refer to it that way. Great article, I would love go visit one day and see beluga whales that are not caged in glass.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have seen dolphins in the wild in New Zealand and Panama but this was the first time I had just been stopped in a boat and had animals come up to check things out.

  26. Cathy Sweeney says:

    You’ve convinced me that Churchill would be a great place to visit for a bit of an adventure. Always wanted to see polar bears, too – from a comfortable distance.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Summer isn’t polar bear season but I did manage to see a few, but even if I hadn’t the belugas alone were worth it.

  27. Aw look at that dog! Where did he come from?

    The town sounds a little too tranquil for me to spend more than a couple of days but I think it would be worth it for the whales!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      We were in an area with sled dogs and he was off his lease and so friendly although a bit smelly…

  28. jamie - cloud people adventures says:

    i know what you mean about not seeing your own country! ive seen almost nothing of oz. i just keep thinking that i can do it later.

    sounds like an incredible place! that photo of the belugas is amazing. nothing better than seeing animals such as these in their natural environment.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I always felt Canada could wait, but then I never really knew what it offered.

  29. Sebastian says:

    wow the beluga whales are amazing!!! lucky you to get so close to them!

  30. wow, so many belugas!

  31. Wow – you got so close to the whales – breathtaking!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I thought it would take a bit of time to see the whales and they would be at a distance. I had no idea once we stopped the boat they would swim right up.

  32. Caz Makepeace says:

    Sounds like a really cool place. I’ve never heard of it before, so thank you for sharing about it with us.
    it is time I got myself to Canada!

  33. What a fantastic trip!! I grew up on the Prairies and I love them. 🙂 They may look like one flat expanse, but once you start exploring there are so many treasures to be found. I love that you found such a place in Churchill. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I didn’t know you grew up on the Prairies, Manitoba or Saskatchewan?

  34. I love beluga whales!!! Isn’t it heartwarming to know home has so much to offer? 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I’m starting to see Canada has so much that I don’t know about.

  35. Wow. I want to go here.

  36. Bluegreen Kirk says:

    Seems like you have a lot to explore within your own home. It sucks when you go to some place looking for something different only to find they have done the same as everywhere else. Cater to tourist! That meal looks great. Ordering two weeks in advance sound tough.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yeah I am sure it can be tough for restaurants to try to manage their food load, although I guess it’s always been that way so they are used to it.

  37. Holy crap, beluga whales! That is so amazing!! I have never heard of Churchill but it sounds like an amazing, wild place!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      A lot of people know it as ‘that place’ you can see polar bears, but the summer is just as great.

  38. Georgia Pellegrini says:

    The pictures of the wildlife took my breath away!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was so amazed by it, I have never felt nature in such a raw way.

  39. Wow. That’s a LOT of beluga whales. Enjoying these posts of RE-discovery in Canada. Great stuff!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know, I had no idea you could see them anywhere in Canada much less so many of them.

  40. joshywashington says:

    That shot of the whales is really cool! I know you hate hiking and camping but I will be your personal guide / porter should you want to give Pacific Northwest camping a try…I won’t rest until you visit Seattle 😉

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have to say Seattle and Portland are so tempting, and I really haven’t spent much time in the US…

  41. Colleen Friesen says:

    I know what you mean about Disneyfied towns…they become a parody of themselves. It’s all a bit surreal. As Gertrude Stein so famously said, “There is no there, there.”
    I like going to places that are existing just fine without me. It feels so much more authentic.
    Manitoba is a great province. Sounds like your re-entry into all things Canada is going well 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I like that quote, it speaks perfect to the emptiness I feel in a lot of tourist towns.

  42. Barb Sligl says:

    Ayngelina, you are so right! It was amazing discovering Churchill and being amidst such wildness and rawness – a completely different experience from the typical tourist traps. The belugas, bears, dogs, and friendly people are all, as you say, authentic. And in our backyard, so to speak. I just got back from a similar trip to a less-travelled resource-based region of Vancouver Island, where life goes on with or without tourists, and it’s refreshing. Some elements can be disconcerting (like the clear cuts and laden logging trucks I saw on the island or the bear that got shot on the street around the corner from our hotel in Churchill), but they’re real and this is one of the amazing things about travel – it changes your perception and gets under your skin. Beyond the bubble!

  43. Migrationology says:

    Churchill sounds great Ayngelina – your description is exactly like what I like to find while traveling – places that aren’t so much developed for normal tourists. That caribou steak looks awesome!

  44. Living in Michigan I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Ontario, but it looks like I need to expand my travel destinations. Thanks so much for sharing the beauty of Manitoba with me. (So jealous you seen beluga whales…what a fantastic experience!!!)

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I think there may be much to see in Northern Canada, it’s so different from the rest of the country.

  45. Cool! I’m glad you found something to do near home. That’s one of my fears if/when I go back. I feel like it just won’t be exiting enough :/ Maybe I can find some whales…warmer whales 🙂

  46. Sounds great! I have always loved Beluga whales (I grew up singing Baby Beluga, what can you do?) and I think that they get overlooked when it comes to whale watching–maybe because of where the reside but either way sounds like a very cool experience!

    Enjoy exploring your home country!

  47. Jenni Bennett says:

    Holy beluga whales! What an incredible experience! I love that picture with the whale sticking his nose out of the water. I’ve never been to Canada, but this post has me thinking about it…

  48. Christina says:

    How amazing! It’s O for Awesome for sure! I had to look up where Churchill was… wow, what a trip!

  49. Cornelius Aesop says:

    That sounds great, I’ve never been that far north into Cananda myself. I’m sure a visit would be nice but I’m not sure I could, or would want to experience their winter.

  50. As Canadians on the west coast, we’ve yet to visit Manitoba… this post certainly adds to our curiosity!

  51. Jade Johnston says:

    I have wanted to go to churchill since FOREVER! I am from Manitoba and I have always dreamed of going there! I am so jealous that you manged to get a press trip! I was accepted to go there on a research trip with the university of manitoba, but we had to pay our own transport costs (which included a helicopter ride to get to a secluded research base) and I just could not afford it :(:(

  52. That last photo alone is enough to make me want to go there…

  53. Too awesome.

    We always take for granted the wonders of our homeland. Now that I’m getting ready to leave it, I’ve realised that there’s a whole heap of stuff I want to be doing here and visting beforehand.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I felt the same way and did none of it you will appreciate it more when you go back.

  54. This sounds like exactly the sort of trip that my baby boomer readers would love. I’ve always wanted to visit Churchill for a tundra buggy ride to see the polar bears. My friends who have done this rave about it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know, I am dying to go back in the Winter even though I hate the cold.

  55. Wandering Carol says:

    I just came back from Churchill and fell in love with the belugas. It’s just unbelievable, isn’t it? Glad you captured it on video.

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