I close my eyes – something not recommended for underwater photography. But the visibility, floating at the surface of Canada’s Hudson Bay, is less than an arm’s distance, so all I can do is wait patiently.
And then the symphony starts: A crescendo of squeaks and clicks build until I feel my chest reverberating. It’s time to take a deep breath and freedive down. Six metres below the surface, the brackish haze turns into a dark emerald green and I can finally see with my eyes what all the commotion is about.
Each summer, more than 50,000 beluga whales gather in the mouth of the Churchill River in the Canadian subarctic to feed and give birth. Most often seen in captivity at zoos and aquariums, these Arctic whales are rarely photographed in their natural habitat. But the trek to the edge of the Arctic – where polar bears patrol the shores and button-sized mosquitoes buzz about in the summer sun – is worth the chance to meet the white whale.
THE CANARIES OF THE SEA
Just weeks earlier, the brackish water of Hudson Bay remained frozen solid. Even with most of the ice gone, the water hovers around 2°C to 3°C. It’s a shock to enter, despite my double-layered 7mm wetsuit, which is nowhere as thick as the 12-centimetre-thick blubber borne by the belugas.