Monday, April 15, 2024

Canada. Churchill, Hudson Bay, Eden of beluga and polar bears. As long as it lasts

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Canada. Churchill. Manitoba. The village of less than a thousand people is on Hudson Bay, in other words the Arctic. At “just” 59 degrees latitude but overlooking part of the semi-enclosed sea – allowing for climate change – it freezes from November to early summer. Here, hundreds of kilometers away from any other urban settlement and almost 2,000 kilometers from the state capital Winnipeg, nature lovers and wildlife watchers have a double chance – which the lucky ones can get at the same time. The mixture of land and water in and around Church is actually one of the favorite habitats of the polar bear, and the world’s number one “city” in the population of the beluga finds its best habitat in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in the summer, for the amount of food available and the variety and protection from potential predators, especially from the orca.

The definite presence of the white bear is now known even far from the maple land. Those with a little interest in animal and thematic documentaries will have seen many times the characteristic images of “polar bear tours” in early autumn, when the largest land mammal wakes up from the “walking hibernation” it spent the summer. And – with the ice that gradually catches the bay, it begins its long hunting season, in which – with the opposite interval compared to other bears, sleeping precisely during that period – it tries to gain as much weight as possible. A thousand specimens literally gather around Churchill before the snow firmly captures this vast arctic inlet, sometimes revealing themselves among garbage cans and supermarkets. Usually everything happens from late October to late November. From that moment, the now unified “pack” covers the entire ocean branch, which stretches over almost 1.2 million square kilometers to the Pole, the polar bears go deep in to fish whatever solid “bottom” they can find. ocean layer.

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Before all of this happens, usually from the moment the bay thaws, in early summer, and from September to October, the area becomes the world capital of the beluga community. A “medium”-sized cetacean (at least by the standards of the infraorder of the animal in question), more closely related to sperm whales, narwhals and gyphids (monodontids) than to the more commonly approached dolphins or whales, it has found its habitat in this wonderful mammal bay, with its relatively warm and hospitable waters. . Protected from killer whales, with its estuaries, starting from the homogeneous river of the small community in question, Hudson Bay and especially its western and southern shores are reached by 55 thousand odontocetes every year. They occur in families of adults and young people, the latter being recognizable, as well as size, for light gray color, still not honest.

Naturally arousing sympathy, Belugas, who do not shy away from tourist attention for their twinkling light or human smile-inducing expression like dolphins, become even more fascinating once you learn. How subtle their “language” is. Renamed “The Canaries of the Sea” for the fifty or so voices they emit, they are “social animals with a very complex communication system,” explains Valeria Vergara, a researcher at Raincoast Conservation, who has been observing them for years. “The beluga is a species that pays attention to sounds, as humans do in mink,” he tells Agence France-Presse. With his ears pointed at the hydrophone, Vergara tries to sort out the many sounds coming from the seabed, which sounds surprising and revealing to an inexperienced listener. “Belugas must rely on sounds to communicate, but also to find each other or to find a route or food ..:”, asserts Vergara, who then explains that he learned to recognize the “communication cry” he used. Mothers guide their pups.


When they are born, belugas measure about one meter and eighty kilograms. They depend on their mother for a year or two. As adults, these cetaceans can reach 6 meters in length, usually around Greenland and the icy waters north of Canada, Norway and Russia. They live up to 60 years. Hudson Bay has the largest population on the planet. But here, as in other places, the reduction of the ice sheet, as a result of climate change, which has caused warming 3-4 times more than in other parts of the planet, is causing concern to scientists (and not only). For now, in the summer, the chances of admiring them are very high. And the lucky ones – as you can see from the pictures – can even see – more from a distance than statistically happens in November – a polar bear lazily walking around looking for some carcasses.

Located on the southwest side of Hudson Bay, Churchill has a population of just 800. It is not accessible by car. You arrive by plane and, surprisingly, by train twice a week, from Winnipeg: 1697 kilometers in about 21 hours. With sleeping car option. Or with a panoramic glass roof. Especially for those who have gone hunting for the northern lights since September.

Valeria Vergara, a researcher who studies the behavior and language of belugas

Valeria Vergara, a researcher studying the behavior and language of belugas (afp)

Bruno Lawrence
Bruno Lawrence
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