Once your zodiac driver has located a friendly pod of beluga whales in the mood for some people watching, you slip over the side into the water and holding onto a rope you drift or are gently towed by the zodiac. Curious whales follow along and may come within a few feet to look you over. Snorkelers enter the beluga’s world where vocalizations are easy to hear and echolocation clicks and exhalation bubbles can be felt. The Arctic wet suits insulate you from the cold water for over an hour. Time spent with these gentle creatures passes quickly but the thrill lasts a lifetime.
Sea North Tours provides 7 MM Arctic wet suits, double over the torso, gloves, hoods and boots plus masks and snorkels. Sizes range from a woman’s size 6 to a man’s XXXL; sorry no children’s sizes. Upper body strength and good mobility are required. The cost is $220 (includes tax) per person for 3 hours, minimum 2 people, must be at least 12 years of age.
"Swimming with beluga whales was unbelievable; something else to add to the 'why didn't I do this five years ago list?!?'. We've been twice and both times were great but its truly amazing on a nice sunny day. When the light penetrates the green salt water, you can see layers and layers and layers of beluga whales swimming beside and beneath you. A few times, the pod would swim right up and among us, probably nine or ten whales within ten or twenty feet - which of course feels like four or five feet underwater. You see ghostly apparitions of belugas, rays of sunshine in the water, florescent blinking jellyfish and even the shadows of rocks (and an underwater camera or two) on the bottom of the river. It really feels like another world down there.
Some swim by your feet, just a shade behind you, trying to make sense of this new underwater intruder. Others glide under you, turning on their back and twisting their necks to look up and then at their friends, guessing at the origins of the gangly creature floating on top of the water. They appear and disappear with ease, sometimes approaching head-on, first appearing as a greenish white blur in the water; other times, they sneak up, suddenly swimming by, so close that you can see the ice and gravel scrapes and scratches, scars from close-calls, fatty folds of capelins past and maybe even a few smile lines.
The water's cold but in a wet suit you don't even feel it. I was in for about an hour and a half the first time we went - of course, Churchill has drastically skewed my cold-o-meter but even half an hour would have been enough to make it the experience of a lifetime. I love watching bears but swimming with belugas rank right up there if not above my best bear encounter. If you are reading this and live in Canada (especially Manitoba!) start planning a beluga whale encounter for next summer, its probably one of the most unique and exciting experiences on the planet and its in your backyard..."
Wet suit compared to Dry suit for snorkeling
Before buying our equipment we consulted with Guy MacMillan, professional diver, Winnipeg Fire Department Search and Rescue, retired. It was explained to us that real dry suits are custom fitted to each individual. It is necessary to have an exact fit at the face and wrists. Too tight and it is difficult to get on with the possibility of ripping, too loose and of course the water will leak into your suit.
Arctic wet suits of the proper thickness with johns and jackets cover your body with a minimum of 7 MM of high quality insulating neoprene and double that, 14 MM, over the torso. In addition boots, gloves, hood, mask and snorkel cover you. These suits allow for better mobility in the water and are “warm”. We have had snorkelers in the water for up to 3 hours without any discomfort. Often non-scuba dry suits that are used for snorkeling are primarily designed for wind surfing or jet skiing. These suits trap more air and restrict mobility.