Baby beluga in the deep blue (Hudson) bay…

(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)

IMGP9008The sun beats down on my bright yellow kayak as gentle waves rock the hull back and forth. Directly behind me is the port of Churchill, one of the most diverse and interesting places I’ve ever visited. Directly in front is a pod of beluga whales swimming about, magnificent glistening creatures gliding gracefully in and out of the waters of the Hudson Bay.

I’ve spent the past half hour trying to maneuver my watercraft near enough to get a good glimpse, but they are awesomely elusive. Just when I get relatively close, they dart off in the opposite direction, leaving little hope I’ll ever get to see them. Until, all of a sudden, they turn and head in my exact direction. Dozens of them. Coming straight at me!

Belugas - kayakMy first instinct as a slightly anxious human is to turn around and paddle the hell out of there. After all, they could so easily flip my tippy little kayak if they really want to. Even though our guide Lindsay from Sea North Tours tells us they are docile, I can’t be certain. What if she is wrong? What if they aren’t gentle? What if they are angry today, and want to take it out on an innocent tourist who happens to be in the wrong place at the right time??

Thoughts of doom race through my mind as my pulse quickens. Anxiety wells up in my chest. I take a deep breath, point myself in their general direction, and paddle full speed – straight towards them! It might be crazy, but I have to go for it. I have to trust.

Lindsay tells us they like movement, so I keep my kayak moving. Once they notice you, she says, they’re curious and will come over to check youBelugas! out. Even though I’m still partially terrified, I so desperately want them to notice me. And oh boy, do they ever!

A few seconds later, I’m surrounded by belugas – some underneath, some in front, some behind, some alongside just below the surface. They are so close I could touch them! Adrenaline is racing full force now as I work up the nerve to reach out my hand. But before I have the chance to even let go of my paddle, poof, they’re gone.

Just like that.

That first encounter happened so quickly, and leaves me wanting more. Now, I’m hooked! I spend the next few hours chasing them down, moving my kayak around, and trying to lure them back. It’s no longer scary. Now, it’s absolutely exhilarating. And totally magical.

IMGP9109Lindsay tells us they also like music, so I sing to them (and anyone else within earshot, I suppose). I wonder what songs a beluga would like? One time when I swam with dolphins in Australia, the dolphins seemed to respond to The Tide Is High by Blondie. So it seems fitting a beluga might like it, too. I go ahead and try that song. No response.

However, I am pleased to discover they like Crazy by Patsy Cline, and Paul McCartney’s Mull Of Kintyre. Singing these two songs brings them to my kayak again and again. The more time they spend around me, the more I learn to trust them. They must trust me, too, because they stay and play with me for a long time. Either that, or they like my singing.

Eventually I am able to reach out and touch their silky smooth torsos. Occasionally they bump up against the bottom of my kayak, raising me up in the air. IMGP9134Sometimes they swim directly underneath, flip themselves upside-down, and gaze up at me. I wonder if they wonder what I am. They look curious, happy, and completely carefree. I swear, they even smile at me.

Each time they approach, I feel more at ease. Eventually, they grow tired of me and my gazillion songs, and swim away from my little yellow kayak for good. Gone forever. Leaving nothing behind but a lingering wake, and wonderful memories I’ll always treasure.

Just like that.

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