Beluga whales frolic in the High Arctic

Belugas at arcticwatch_with addressIt’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. As a special treat, I thought I’d point you in the direction of a delightful bit of video footage of beluga whales.

If you haven’t seen this Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation clip already, it’s worth a few minutes. It’s footage of belugas and their calves frolicking in the shallow water of Cunningham Inlet, on Somerset Island, Nunavut (within the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation, which is north of the Gulf of Boothia subpopulation region that I discussed previously here and here).

While I previously surmised that Gulf of Boothia polar bears might hunt beluga from remnant ice during the summer in years when the ice doesn’t totally melt (like they do in Hudson Bay, see belugas as food for hungry polar bears), it appears they also successfully hunt beluga in shallow waters like those found in Cunningham Inlet. But there is no hunting footage in this post.

Link and further info below, including a map and references on beluga, and polar bear predation on beluga in this region.

Figure 1. Map showing the location of Cunningham Inlet, where the Arctic Watch footage was filmed, in relation to Gulf of Boothia.

Figure 1. Map showing the location of Cunningham Inlet, where the Arctic Watch beluga footage was filmed, in relation to Gulf of Boothia.

Tens of thousands of beluga pass through this region every summer (see Fig. 2 below for numbers).

The video is the product of the Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, “a non-profit corporation with the mission to ensure a future for the beluga whales of Cunningham Inlet through supporting scientific research and education at Arctic Watch” [Caveat to note: Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, the associated business venture, will book you a vacation trip for ~ $5,000 to $7,500 for a one-week adventure. I’ve never spent $5,000 for a holiday in my life and don’t expect I ever will, but I guess some folks do.]

Here’s the link: http://www.arcticwatch.ca/social-responsibility/beluga-whale-cam The entire loop runs for over an hour.

The babies are dark grey, the adults are white.  See them “spy-hopping” up out of the water!

The Arctic Watch website says this about the video:

Every summer, an estimated 2000 beluga whales congregate in Cunningham Inlet, on Somerset Island, Nunavut. Located in the Canadian arctic, this Internationally recognized beluga whale congregation is one of the largest remaining congregations on earth.

Frolicking in the shallow waters of the Cunningham River, the beluga whales congregate during the summer months of July and August to rub on the rocks of the shallow river, nurse their young and interact. 

Built to film this event, the beluga cam is installed on the shoreline near where the whales congregate. The beluga cam, a solar powered high speed internet camera, films the whales LIVE.”

More beluga photos, like the one at the top of this post, at the Arctic Watch website here.

Figure 2. Distribution of belugas, and estimated, numbers, in Canada. From Fisheris and Oceans Canada (DFO) publication “Underwater World: Beluga” (pdf and link to online version in the reference list below). Click to enlarge.

Figure 2. Distribution of belugas, and estimated, numbers, in Canada. From the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) publication “Underwater World: Beluga”
(pdf and link to the online version in the reference list below, “DFO 2002′). Cunningham Inlet beluga are part of the “High Arctic” population.

References
COSEWIC 2004. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Beluga Whale Delphinapterus leucas in Canada. SARA Registry. Online verion here; Pdf here.

DFO 2002. Underwater World: Beluga. Pdf here. Online version here; Pdf here.

Innes, S., Heide-Jørgensen, M.P., Laake, J.L., Laidre, K.L., Cleator, H.J., Richard, P., and Stewart, R.E.A. 2002. Surveys of belugas and narwhals in the Canadian High Arctic in 1996. NAMMCO Scientific Publications 4:169-190. Pdf here.

Smith, T.G. and Sjare, B. 1990. Predation of belugas and narwhals by polar bears in nearshore areas of the Canadian High Arctic. Arctic. 43: 99-102. http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/1597Pdf here.

Abstract (Smith and Sjare 1990)
On 18 August 1988 we found four narwhals and two dead belugas stranded on a low beach at Creswell Bay, Somerset Island. All of the narwhals and two of the belugas had been attacked and partially eaten by polar bears. At Cunningham Inlet, where belugas concentrate in large numbers, we have noted ten strandings over the period 1980-88, without bear predation on these occasions. One bear, hunting from an ice floe in deep water at Cunningham Inlet, killed two sub-adult belugas in July 1985. Belugas seem to exhibit curiosity towards swimming polar bears that might serve to drive bears out of the area and reduce the risk of predation. The potential large summer food resource for bears represented by odontocete whales in the High Arctic Archipelago seems to be underutilized. The timing and location of beluga concentrations are known and dates of probable strandings are somewhat predictable, which might allow us to assess the extent of bear predation on whales in the future.

Smith, T.G. and Martin, A.R. 1994. Distribution and movements of belugas, Delphinapterus leucas, in the Canadian High Arctic. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 51:1653-1663. Pdf here.

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