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BELUGA WHALES AT ARCTIC WATCH

One of the last great wildlife congregations on earth, Cunningham Inlet is home to a unique beluga nursery of several thousand animals.

For the belugas that visit Arctic Watch every year, it’s a very social event. Hundreds of whales in very shallow waters interact with one-another. In only a few feet of water, the belugas breach, rub on the riverbed, make clicking, whistling and trumpet sounding noises.

A drone's eye view of the Beluga whales in Cunningham Inlet. Notice the photographers on the shoreline!
A drone’s eye view of the Beluga whales in Cunningham Inlet and the Cunningham River. Notice the photographers on the shoreline!

The shallow waters of the Cunningham River provide water that is nearly 15 degrees warmer than the Arctic ocean, making a great social environment for the whales visiting Arctic Watch. Here are a few great photographs captured this summer, that show how playful the belugas can be – they’ve even been photographed playing with kelp and stones!

A playful beluga surfaces with a river stone from the Cunningham River!
A playful beluga surfaces with a river stone from the Cunningham River!

A major attraction of Cunningham Inlet for the several thousand whales that visit annually during the summer months of July and August is not only the warm water of the Cunningham River, but the shallow and protected topography of Cunningham inlet. The inlet’s entrance is only about ten feet deep - a natural deterrent for larger predators in the open ocean of the Northwest Passage. This not only makes for a great playground, but a safe one at that!

A juvenile beluga playing in the shallow water near Arctic Watch (in the background).
A juvenile beluga playing in the shallow water near Arctic Watch (in the background).

The beluga whales visit the inlet annually. Every year, as the sea ice retreats on the Northwest Passage (early July), the belugas follow the retreating ice into Cunningham Inlet. Typically arriving in the inlet in early July (usually about the first week of July), they will stay in the inlet until the first or second week of August, when the sea ice returns for the winter. The belugas then migrate to a polynya in Baffin Bay (a body of water that never freezes), where they spend the winter, to return the following year.

Cunningham Inlet melting in early July - notice the open water on the Northwest Passage.
Cunningham Inlet melting in early July. As the spring melt on the tundra takes place, the water fresh water spilling into the ocean slowly melts away the sea ice.


The belugas congregate approximately one kilometre from Arctic Watch. In calm summer evenings in July and August, belugas can be very active! Rubbing, chasing one-another, squeaking, splashing and interacting within family groups is all part of their fun.

Belugas in action and guests admiring the moment!
Belugas in action and guests admiring the moment!

Our lead photographer at Arctic Watch, recently created a video on the beluga congregation of Cunningham Inlet. Armed with a drone, Nansen set out to film the congregation in his short film entitled “Drone Art: Arctic Wildlife and Landscapes”. The short film garnered international attention - going viral on Youtube and receiving international press from more than 20 countries!

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