As the sea ice recedes each summer, more than 57,000 beluga whales return to the estuaries of Manitoba’s southwestern Hudson Bay to molt, feed, and give birth. A new video released this week by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Oceans North Canada project documents the crucial role these biologically rich estuaries play as the belugas’ summer home.
The five-minute film focuses on research conducted by Pew in the Seal River estuary during the past two years. The science team gathered data on the beluga whales in the region. As a whole, the population is considered to be healthy.
Thousands of belugas also congregate in the estuaries of the Nelson and Churchill rivers. The shallow waters offer safety from predators and provide plentiful food.
This research began in 2012, when scientists tagged six beluga whales and collected data on their range and migration routes. Last summer, the team completed a boat-based survey of the whales’ population density and use of the Seal River estuary habitat.
These data will support the Manitoba government’s proposed beluga management plan that would protect key estuaries from environmental threats. Industrial activities are increasing now that the Hudson Bay has four more ice-free weeks than a decade ago.
Ensuring a sustainable beluga population is also important to Inuit in the region who rely on a traditional summer whale hunt as a vital source of food. The video includes the perspective of an Inuit guide from Arviat, the nearest indigenous community, about the need to conserve beluga habitat.
The Oceans North Canada initiative promotes science- and community-based conservation of Canada’s Arctic Ocean and the resulting well-being of indigenous residents and is a project of Pew and Ducks Unlimited Canada.