Travel Manitoba by llr93689

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									Canadian media contact: Cathy Senecal                                    U.S. media contact: Nat Silverman
Travel Manitoba                                                                Nathan J. Silverman Co./PR
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News
For Immediate Release                                                                 Attn: Travel Editors


                         SNORKELERS GO BELLY TO BELLY
                        WITH BELUGA WHALES IN MANITOBA

                            July to August, Visitors Don Wet Suits
                        to Float Among Friendly White “Sea Canaries”
                                     in Sub-Arctic Waters

Editors: Photos available. E-mail natsilv@aol.com

CHURCHILL, Manitoba, Canada, June 12, 2009 — The sub-Arctic frontier seaport of Churchill,

Manitoba, famed for polar-bear watching in the fall, attracts summertime visitors seeking close

encounters with another white wildlife wonder of the Canadian North — the beluga whale.

        Each summer, approximately 3,000 curious, playful belugas migrate from the Arctic to the

relatively warmer waters of the southwest Hudson Bay and its river estuaries where they feed and

birth calves.

        From early July to mid-August, wildlife enthusiasts float belly to belly with pods of belugas

during two-to-three-hour guided snorkeling adventures on the Churchill River or Seal River and

Hudson Bay.

        After arriving at the dock for their excursion, participants put on wet suits or dry suits (worn

over regular clothing), then board a small craft and set out on the water. When the crew spots a likely

location for an optimal beluga encounter, passengers put on diving gloves, hoods, boots, masks and

snorkels, then slip over the side of the boat into the water. Holding on to ropes tethered to the boat,

snorkelers float face down while drifting with the current or being towed slowly over the surface.

         It’s not unusual for snorkelers to mingle with dozens upon dozens of the graceful snow-white


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creatures, some with gray beluga calves close beside them. With their flexible necks — unusual for

whales — they cock their heads to look you right in the eyes.

        Some belugas float on their backs directly under the visitors, craning their necks for a better

look. Snorkelers often say they feel like they are on display, and the whales are the spectators.

        An audible symphony of underwater vocalizations emanate from these “sea canaries,” an

effect that’s been described as an “otherworldly serenade” of chirps, clicks, and whistles.

        “Guests tell us that the water is so clear and the whales are so close, it’s like you’re in a dream

with whales floating around you,” says Wally Daudrich, proprietor of Churchill’s Lazy Bear Lodge,

which operates snorkeling tours.

        “They are in awe,” says Doreen Macri of Sea North Tours, originator of the snorkeling

expeditions. “They are almost speechless when they get back to shore.”

        One travel writer wrote that “snorkeling for nearly an hour within a pod of 15-foot-long

beluga whales must be as close as it comes to actually making an interspecies shift.”

        Wildlife experts say the gentle creatures pose no danger to snorkelers and suffer no harm from

human contact, since they are in their natural habitat and are free to come and go as they please.

        How long a snorkeler remains in the chilly water is up to the individual. Some float for 20

minutes, others an hour or more. Water temperatures range from a few degrees above freezing to near

60 degrees Fahrenheit.

        Although the waters are about 10 to 60 feet deep, outfitters say non-swimmers are welcome

because the wet suits and dry suits are highly buoyant, and guides keep a close watch. The only

physical requirement is the strength to get oneself into the water and back into the boat. There are no

rigidly enforced age limits, though child-sized suits might not be available.

        “We’ve had people from eight to eighty years old and up to 350 pounds,” says Daudrich, of

Lazy Bear Lodge.

        Sea North Tours (888-348-7591, www.seanorthtours.com) charges $154 (all prices quoted

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are in U.S. dollars) per person, tax included, for a two-hour snorkeling tour, which sets out on a

motorized, inflatable rubber boat called a Zodiac. The fee includes use of all necessary gear, including

a 7-mm neoprene Arctic wet suit, mask, snorkel, and related items.

        The three-hour snorkeling tours offered by Lazy Bear Lodge (866-687-2327,

www.lazybearlodge.com) are $204 per person, plus tax. Snorkelers are issued dry suits and ride out to

sea on a flat-bottomed boat with a hydro-jet engine.

        Companies that operate deluxe, inclusive summer tours to Churchill offer snorkeling as an

extra-cost option, typically for an additional $68 to $204 per person, plus tax, depending on the tour

company. These include, among others, Churchill Nature Tours (877-363-2968,

www.churchillnaturetours.com), with a seven-day, six-night “Whale Watching Tour” for $3,495 per

person, including tax; Frontiers North (800-663-9832, www.frontiersnorth.com), with a seven-day,

six-night “Belugas, Birds and Blooms in Churchill” tour for $3030 per person, plus tax; The Great

Canadian Travel Company (800-661-3830, www.greatcanadiantravel.com), with a seven-day, six-

night “Churchill Beluga Whale Tour” for $1,872 per person, plus tax; and Lazy Bear Lodge, with a

three-day, two-night “Beluga Whale Dream Tour” for $1,222 per person, plus tax. Prices are based on

double occupancy and include round-trip transportation between Winnipeg and Churchill either by air

or a combination of air and train.

        Churchill Wild (866-846-9453, www.churchillwild.com) flies visitors 30 miles from

Churchill to the remote, upscale 16-guest Seal River Heritage Lodge, for a tour that includes

snorkeling in dry suits in the Seal River estuary while being towed slowly by the feet behind a Zodiac.

Guests dine on gourmet northern cuisine. Its seven-day, six-night “Birds, Bears & Belugas

Adventure,” including round-trip airfare between Winnipeg and Churchill, is $5,605 per person,

double occupancy, including tax.

        Those who’d rather watch belugas without getting into the water have several options,

including whale-watching cruises on Zodiacs and larger vessels, as well as canoe and kayak outings.

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Belugas can be observed from shore and in small and large pods from helicopters.

           While belugas are the major summer attraction here, they’re not alone. Wildlife-watchers

might observe seals, caribou, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, and even polar bears. Ptarmigans, marsh hawks,

and bald and golden eagles, are among the many varieties of birds in the area.

           Located just above the tree line, about 620 miles north of the provincial capital of Winnipeg,

Churchill’s rocky yet wildflower-covered landscape flanks the massive Hudson Bay, an inland sea

connected to the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans.

           Churchill’s restaurants offer culinary adventures. Lazy Bear Lodge serves Arctic char, caribou

pepper steak, and sirloin of musk ox, among other regional delicacies. Indigenous ingredients include

bearberries, Saskatoon berries, and cloud berries (whose taste has been likened to cinnamon-baked

apples).

           Churchill is accessible only by plane or train, with most visitors embarking from Winnipeg.

From there, it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour flight or 36-hour train ride. Some travelers save money

by driving to Thompson in northern Manitoba, paying to park, and flying or taking the train to

Churchill.

           Wildlife, cultural, and historic attractions in and near Churchill are described on Travel

Manitoba’s website: www.travelmanitoba.com. A Guide to Churchill is also available by calling

Travel Manitoba toll-free at (800) 665-0040.

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