CROONING WITH THE CANARIES OF THE SEA
HUDSON BAY, CANADA (59.7121° N, 85.2539° W)
I have just been kissed by a beluga whale. I’m lying on a foam mat with my face submerged in the icy waters of Manitoba’s Hudson Bay in the Canadian subarctic, clad in three layers of clothing and an insulated drysuit, surrounded by hundreds of these small white whales.
I had been well aware that this AquaGliding experience, the headliner of my Travel Marvel Arctic summer adventure here at the very top of the world, would get me up close with the belugas. After all, Hudson Bay is where the world’s highest concentration of whales can be found each summer when 60,000 belugas congregate here to breed, feed and socialise. Still, I was not expecting smooches.
I jerk my head out of the water and pull off my full-face snorkel, squinting in the Arctic evening sunshine. The rational part of my brain recognises these creatures as playful and gentle, but still, I can’t help but be intimidated by both their sheer volume and their proximity, and am suddenly acutely aware of just how far away from the rest of the world we are right now.
There are no paved roads leading into Churchill, the remote town of just 800 residents where we’re staying on dry land. If anything were to happen to me, trains or planes would be my only way out.
“You’re fine!” yells our guide, as if sensing my fear from the Zodiac towing the mat I’m lying on. “Just keep singing.” Yes, singing. It had been suggested that I sing to these so-called “canaries of the sea”, and although I felt ridiculous doing it at first, it had an extraordinary effect.
As I sang they swam closer, turning their necks as most other whale species are unable to do and peering inquisitively into my eyes. And so, I remind myself that there is absolutely nowhere else on earth I can have this experience, submerge my head and begin singing the theme song from The Little Mermaid.
Again the whales gather by the dozen, as curious about me as I am about them. The song they sing back is almost mystical, a haunting series of clicks and whistles and the perfect accompaniment to the sight of their alabaster bodies vanishing into the depths like majestic ghosts.
I had arrived in Churchill filled with anticipation about meeting that other iconic white creature, the polar bear, and seeing them has indeed been extraordinary. However, coming face-to-face with hundreds of belugas has made me fall in love with our planet in a whole new way – and I know this evening will be the one that stays with me long after I return home. See travelmarvel.com.au
THIS ESSAY WAS PART OF A COVER STORY ON THE WORLD’S MOST REMOTE DESTINATIONS. READ THE FULL STORY HERE