Is there a cheerier face in the animal kingdom than a beluga whale? OK, maybe quokkas, but they don’t have a brand new live stream cam right now, and belugas do.
Launched on Wednesday by Polar Bear International and Explore.org, the live steam cam allows us to follow the gentle cetaceans on their journey from the cold Arctic waters to the warmer waters of Canada’s Churchill River estuary in the Hudson Bay as the sea ice recedes. Here, thousands will molt, feed, rest, and give birth in the shallow waters.
It’s thought around 57,000 belugas make this migratory journey every year between July and August. In winter, when there’s lots of sea ice, the whales congregate in the north of Hudson Bay, but when the ice begins to melt the belugas migrate southwest to the many warmer water estuaries at the mouth of the Churchill River.
It’s here the Beluga Boat is patrolling with underwater cameras and microphones attached to the stern to get a whale’s eye view of these inquisitive, social, and very chatty creatures. Seriously, check what level your volume is on before starting the live feed, they are noisy. Squeaks, clicks, calls, and chirps can all be heard as they occasionally bump the camera, boop the (whaleproof) propeller, or bounce off each other.
Oh hey, guys!
Beluga whales, like most cetaceans, are super social animals. A recent study found that their social ties go beyond close blood relatives to include unrelated beluga buddies, creating complex communities that include individuals of all ages, sexes, and relations. They're not even fussed about keeping it in the species family. Back in 2018, a pod appeared to adopt a young narwhal into their gang. It's not the first time they've been known to get friendly with narwhals.
Though it's not known exactly why the belugas migrate to these shallow waters, one theory posits that it's a safe place to give birth as the waters are too shallow for big predators like killer whales, which risk stranding if they venture too far up an estuary.
This is the seventh year the livecam has been streamed, created to call attention to the melting Arctic ice. It's well known the Arctic is melting twice as fast as the rest of the planet, what is not yet known is how this will affect animals like belugas, as the seasons change and the sea ice extent decreases. A 2018 study showed that as the sea ice extent shrinks, belugas have been diving more often for longer to forage, likely due to a change in the distribution of their food, like squid and crabs, which are also affected by the warming oceans. Changing seasons may mean the belugas migrate early, putting them at risk of being out of sync with their destination and prey.
For now, though, you can watch the boisterous belugas to your heart's content and are practically guaranteed a spectacular view whenever you tune in.
Belugacam is streaming until the start of September, so keep checking in with the gang. In the coming weeks, you should be able to see them swimming, eating, playing, and nursing their young. If there's one thing cuter than a beluga whale, it's a baby beluga.