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Spotting Beluga Whales & Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba

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It's funny how we North Americans will travel across an ocean to see exotic animals. Yet right within our own continent lies a land flush with mammals only found in but a few zoos. If your brood is into arctic creatures, then Churchill, Manitoba is your mecca. This is the world’s polar bear capital and it’s loaded with beluga whales, too! Come along on an arctic safari of sorts to spot beluga whales and polar bears in Churchill.

Spotting beluga whales and polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba

Polar Bears in Churchill

While you may be lucky (or unlucky) enough to bump into a polar bear in town, you're better off opting for a safe encounter on a Tundra Buggy tour. These massive buses with 15-foot wheels amble over the tundra in search of bears, arctic fox and rare birds like Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes.

Tundra Buggy Adventure ~ Polar Bears, Beluga Whales and Beyond in Churchill, Manitoba

Climb aboard the Tundra Buggy for a polar bear spotting adventure you'll always remember

Polar bears can run as fast as a race horse and hit their full speed within two strides, so you’re not allowed to venture off the bus. But that’s not a problem when they serve of hot soup, sandwiches and dessert. The’re also equipped with washrooms.

Why, yes, that IS a polar bear behind me! ~ Beluga Whales and Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba

Why, yes, that IS a polar bear behind me!

While sightings are never guaranteed your best bet is to visit Churchill during October and November, while polar bears are migrating to the ice floes. Next best is during July and August (that’s when I went) when the bears are conserving energy in the tundra while waiting for that ice to form. After three hours of no sightings our tour group was rewarded for our patience with a large male, about 300 feet (100 meters) away. He who sniffed the air and waddled over in our direction. It was every bit as thrilling as you’d expect. We all had a hoot looking through the binoculars, trying to guide us to just the right spot.

snorkelling in Hudson Bay

Polar Bears, Beluga Whales and Beyond in Churchill, Manitoba

Beluga Whale Spotting

July is calving season for beluga whales. About 3,000 belugas make their way in to the Churchill River from Hudson Bay to have their babies. The whales stay all of July and August and it’s a rare day during that time frame that you won’t spot their smooth, white backs bobbing in the water.

Sea North Tours offers kayaking experiences for families on either single or tandem boats. You’ll go out during low tide, which is great, because there’s not much current then and you can let the wind push you around. There are too many belugas to count and don’t be surprised if these curious creatures gently nudge your kayak or come up super close to say hello. You can even go snorkeling with the belugas, if you so choose. If your family would prefer not getting so up close and personal, you can opt for a Zodiak or sea boat tour with the same company.

Your chances of spotting beluga whales in July and August is extremely high in Churchill, Manitoba

Your chances of spotting beluga whales in July and August is extremely high in Churchill, Manitoba (Photo credit: Flickr/Travel Manitoba)

Where to Stay in Churchill

Churchill is a tiny village of only 700 inhabitants, but there’s over a dozen options for accommodation. The hotels in town are by no means fancy, but Polar Inn and Suites offers family-friendly overnights that include breakfast. Owner-run and managed, it’s lovely to get to know the Allen family and tuck into mom Louise’s freshly baked goods. Rooms are kitted out with full kitchens and they’ll even pick you up at the airport so you don’t have to rent a car. 

View of the sea in Churchill, Manitoba

View of the sea in Churchill, Manitoba

Beluga Whale and Polar Bear Safari

Safaris in Africa might get top billing, but having experienced both, I can tell you that taking in the artic creatures of Canada in their natural habitat was equally as thrilling as seeing an elephant plod across the Savannah. A visit to Churchill, Manitoba not only exposes to children to rare wonders, but brings out a sense of awe you can only experience is this wild environment.

Would you like to add spotting beluga whales and polar bears in Churchill to your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Saucy Travel Mama: Thank you to Travel Manitoba for sponsoring my visit. As always, my opinions are my own.

About Jody Robbins, The Saucy Travel Mama

After a career in international marketing and a few years spent living the high life as an expat, Jody now resides with her family in Calgary, Canada. Figuring travel writing was a good way to combine her wanderlust and parental duties, she’s spent the past few years working with both print and online media, contributing to the Calgary Herald Travel and Real Life sections and blogging about her adventures at Travels with Baggage (JodyRobbins.com). When not circling the globe with her precocious children (one daughter, one husband, one dog), she can usually be found snowboarding or pretending to enjoy hiking. Find Jody on Twitter at @Jody_Robbins.

Comments

  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Sounds amaaaazing, Jody! I love your big smile in all of these pics – I can tell you’re having a blast. Definitely need to add this one to my bucket list!

    • Saucy Travel Mama says:

      I’ve never felt such joy! It was equally as inspiring as a safari in Africa. And with your American $$ vs the CND, you’ll get a 30% discount if you travel soon.

  2. Ash Pickering says:

    Looks like a blast. I saw the Belugas en Alaska, which was fascinating, but still haven’t seen the Polar Bears. That looks like a great way to head out and see them.

    • Saucy Travel Mama says:

      I had no idea there were belugas in Alaska. Duh, me! Makes total sense. The beauty of Churchill is seeing a wide variety of arctic animals. And of course, if you’re American, your $$ just goes that much further…

  3. Sarah Ebner says:

    How absolutely incredible. Love your smile too – can tell how much fun it was!

  4. Drumlessen Den Haag says:

    Shouldn’t that polarbear be in a more colder area with ice and snow?…Hm….anyway, this must have been a true experience!! Lovely pictures

    • Saucy Travel Mama says:

      The polars wait in Churchill over the summer, conserving energy until October – November until the ice flows meld together. Then they start hopping their way to the Arctic Circle. Churchill has been on the polar bear migration path for centuries.

  5. What a fabulous opportunity! I would absolutely want to do this with my family. I am really trying to limit our experience seeing animals in contexts like this. Love your pics!

  6. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) says:

    This is like a dream trip for me! Looks like it was an amazing adventure.

  7. What an experience! Even with a wetsuit, I can’t imagine that water isn’t freezing! But how cool to see those animals up close. Looks like an amazing trip.

    • Saucy Travel Mama says:

      For real, it wasn’t freezing! 🙂 If you’ve ever swam in a glacier fed lake during a Canadian summer, this felt like bath water in comparison. OK, maybe that’s a stretch:)

  8. Katja - globetotting says:

    This is incredible! I love how the Belugas literally glow in the water. Who is that crazy person snorkelling, though? It must be freezing!!

    • Saucy Travel Mama says:

      Actually it wasn’t that cold! It was me snorkelling, but with our super thick wet suits it felt fine. For real!

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