Move over itty bitty fishies, reefs and tropical waters. It's time to get your snorkel on and plunge into the pure waters of the Canadian North. It's one of the only places you can go belly to belly with a curious pod of glowing white mammals of the deep-beluga whales. Welcome to Churchill!
This is not a watch-from-the-boat deal. It's a get-in-the-suit and get-in-the-drink experience. Each summer, about 3,000 playful belugas migrate from the Arctic to the Hudson Bay to feed and give birth to a calf. And you can jump in the water with them.
At the dock, squeak into a wet suit and get on board a zippy Zodiac. When a pod is spotted, it's time for diving gloves, hoods, boots, masks and snorkels. Ready? Now slip over the side of the boat and into either the Churchill River or the Seal River. Don't worry, we'll tether you to the boat. Not a great swimmer? No problem. The suits will keep you afloat. You don't even need fins! Now float face down and tell us what you see, what you hear, what you feel.
"Guests tell us that the water is so clear and the whales are so close, it's like you're in a dream with whales floating around you," says Wally Daudrich, proprietor of Churchill's Lazy Bear Lodge, which operates snorkeling tours.
"They are in awe," says Doreen Macri of Sea North Tours, originator of the snorkeling expeditions. "They are almost speechless when they get back to shore."
Don't be too surprised if you feel like you're on display. Belugas and their babes sometimes float on their backs directly under snorkelers with that ‘gee, I wonder what these things are?' look on their smiling faces. And they'll chat with each other about these two-legged visitors with lots of chirps, clicks and whistles. Hum Happy Birthday and they may respond to you too.
You'll likely be at a loss for words to describe your swim, but don't let the experience stop there. Churchill in the summer is a wildlife watchers windfall with seals, caribou, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, eagles and-if you're lucky-an early polar bear might even stroll nearby.
Have you worked up an appetite? How does Arctic char, caribou pepper steak and bearberry pastry sound? Work off some of that supper with a stroll to The Arctic Trading Company for a little retail therapy. Pick up an original antler carving or a beaded leather purse to remember your awesome splash in the bay with the belugas.
The Arctic Trading Company