Every summer, one of the largest concentrations of beluga whales in the world returns to the southwestern coast of Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. An estimated 57,000 belugas migrate to estuaries formed by the Seal, Nelson, and Churchill rivers, part of a vast drainage system that extends across Manitoba and three other provinces before emptying into Hudson Bay. Scientists who studied this beluga population in the 1980s and early 2000s documented a close relationship between these whales and the estuaries where they molt, feed, and give birth. But many questions remain about this remarkable species and its habitat.
That’s why Oceans North Canada, in cooperation with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Province of Manitoba, has launched a three-year beluga study to gather data on the western Hudson Bay population. More research is needed to accurately assess the extent of the Hudson Bay belugas’ summer range and their migration routes.
While belugas consistently return to the main estuaries in this region, scientists don’t know whether particular pods travel between estuaries or whether they branch off into subgroups that remain on specific rivers. Belugas’ extensive use of these estuaries indicates the importance of this region to them. But more scientific studies are needed to understand why belugas are drawn there and how they interact with this environment so that key habitat can be protected.
Oceans North Canada's Arctic marine biologist, Kristin Westdal, leads a community presentation in Churchill on beluga research
© Oceans North Canada, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Research from this study will help answer several questions:
- How do belugas use the estuaries, and which areas are most important?
- What routes do belugas travel in the summer between the western Hudson Bay estuaries (including the Seal, Churchill, and Nelson river estuaries).
- How long do belugas spend diving for food as compared to time at the surface?
- What are the genetic relationships between the western Hudson Bay belugas?
More Beluga Information
Hudson Bay Beluga Project: CBC Radio interview with Oceans North Canada marine biologist Kristin Westdal. CBC Radio One, Winnipeg morning show, 30 August 2012.
More about the Hudson Bay Beluga Project:
- How are the belugas being tracked? Find out how scientists track these migratory marine mammals.
- Want to learn more about belugas? Check out these facts about their migration, social habits and reproduction.
- Why are Hudson Bay estuaries key habitat? Learn about these marine regions and why they are important to life in the Arctic.
- Who is on the science team? Read about the research team.
Below you'll find news related to the Hudson Bay Beluga Project. Visit our newsroom for more.
Communications Manager, Canadian Arctic
rteichroeb [at] pewtrusts [dot] org
Digital maps and graphics available to accompany a story upon request.