Hudson Bay becomes a summer haven for thousands of belugas

Suddenly five, six to come around the paddle board. They go down one side and come out the other. Underwater: Like two small eyes and a big smile. Each summer, approximately 55,000 beluga whales migrate from Arctic waters to Canada’s Hudson Bay. Not far from the Seine, where a beluga was lost in early August north of Paris, this Canadian estuary allows these small white whales that move in schools to give birth in relatively warm and sheltered waters. Under a partly cloudy surface, the belugas seem to be enjoying the throngs of tourists who flock to Churchill, a small town of 800 people.

Between November and June, the entire bay is completely frozen over. The molt marks the return of the belugas. A perfect place for them. Here these animals can protect themselves from killer whales, and the shores are rich in food. The young ones, still gray in color, are easy to show their whiteness, along with the adults. Attacking the audience is their means of communication, which is sometimes overheard. It is not for nothing that they are nicknamed “canaries of the sea”, they emit about fifty sounds: hissing, clicking, tinkling, etc.

Sound to communicate

Valeria Vergara, who has been studying them for years, sums it up: They are “social” animals with a “very complex communication system.” “The beluga is a sound-oriented species. It’s like a vision for them, for us,” explains the Raincoast Conservation Foundation researcher. Turning to the hydrophone’s loudspeaker, the 53-year-old scientist tries to sort out the many sounds rising from the depths. To the non-expert ear, this is a surprising and cacophonous ensemble.

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“Belugas must rely on sound to communicate, but also to locate themselves or find food,” says one who has learned to recognize “communicative calls” specifically that mothers guide their young. Newborn babies, 1.80 meters tall and weighing 80 kg, remain dependent on their mothers for two years. As an adult, this mammal, which typically occurs in the icy waters around Greenland and northern Canada, Norway and Russia, can grow up to six meters in length and live for 40 to 60 years.

The Hudson Bay Beluga population is the largest in the world. But in this region, which is warming three to four times faster than the rest of the world, the decrease in snowfall due to climate change has caused concern to researchers.

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