By Josh Saunders
Rare footage has captured up to 800 giant whales from above in the at-risk home where they come to give birth.
From older animal to newborns the beautiful belugas were filmed as they sought out the safety of the birthplace in Lancaster Sound, away from predators and to molt dead skin.
The mammals majestically swirl through estuaries to their temporary home, playing and socialising in groups with a vocal chirp that earned them the nickname ‘canaries of the sea’.
Sea Legacy filmed the beautiful creatures in Lancaster Sound, also known as Tallurutiup Imanga, a territory off the northern tip of Canada.
They are campaigning to make the zone into a Marine Protected Area to save the surrounding, wondrous wildlife and environment.
If successful it will prevent oil exploration, additional tanker traffic and development of the area that risks destroying the area.
Cristina Mittermeier, 50, President and Co-Founder of SeaLegacy, said: “Belugas whales are truly mythical animals; they are challenging to find and even harder to film.
“By virtue of being at the right place and time, we were able to spend a couple of days on shore, watching and filming the belugas as they traveled and found refuge in estuaries where they come to molt.
“It is an amazing thing to watch hundreds of beluga whales, from older animals to newborns, swim together towards the mouth of a shallow estuary.
“As the tide rises, the animals prepare to enter the estuary, they must wait for the water to be deep enough in order to avoid getting stranded or beached.
“Once in the estuary, they roll on their backs and sides sloughing dead skin as they molt their entire body, they are also there to give birth.
“They seek these sheltered estuaries to avoid killer whale predation on their young.
“They are called the ‘canaries of the sea’ because they are so vocal – they constantly vocalize and chirp, ‘talking’ to each other and interacting in joyful social groups.
“Watching large pods of marine mammals, playing, socializing and frolicking is heartwarming.
“Knowing that these creatures may continue to live and wander in these Arctic waters can only fill you with hope.
“Finding a hopeful narrative is imperative if we want to have a healthy and abundant ocean for the future.”
Lancaster Sound has been a vital hunting ground for Inuit, who have advocated to have safeguards for the surrounding waters in place since the 1960s.
Sea Legacy hopes the Marine Protected Area will create a 110,000 square kilometre zone – which would make it Canada’s largest area of protected ocean.
This will keep certain migration routes safe so that animals like the beluga can find sanctuary away from the nearby harsh environments.
Cristina said: “The effort to create this new protected area has been led by Inuit knowledge.
“To this day, they depend on hunting for whale meat, for food, trade, and most importantly, for the maintenance of hunting Inuit traditions.
“Protecting this vast area from oil exploration, additional tanker traffic, and development ensures that the habitat on which marine wildlife depend, stands a better chance against climate change.
“Having protected migration routes and being able to find sanctuary is very important for wildlife in these harsh environments.
“When people think about Lancaster Sound, they think about a highway for ships, when in reality it has some of the highest densities of whales in the ocean, so ship traffic needs to be controlled.
“The Arctic as a whole is changing faster than anywhere else on Earth – the effects of a warming planet are felt here in a very dramatic way.
“The loss of sea ice leads to the loss of productivity and to the demise of wildlife, including walruses, polar bears and of course, whales like belugas.
“All of these species depend on a frozen sea ice for their survival.
“If in addition to a changing habitat they also have to face the pressure from commercial fisheries, oil exploration and seismic testing and increased noise pollution and ship traffic, their chances for survival are greatly diminished.
“Our message is simple: when indigenous communities, like the Inuit people of the Arctic, are empowered, and when there is a global constituency of people engaged and interested in ocean conservation, the protection of vast marine landscapes, like Lancaster Sound is possible.”
Sea Legacy share this heart-warming video to show the belugas that dwell within the Lancaster sound.
It’s part of their project to document the importance of the ice to people and wildlife alike, in the hopes of engaging people to the seriousness of climate change and environmental protection.
Cristina said: “We are committed to continue our push for increased marine protection in the Arctic as a whole.
“By celebrating the many benefits a marine protected area in Lancaster Sound will bring to both wildlife and people locally, and to humanity at large, we can continue to make the case for further protection.
“Taking development pressure off of Arctic landscapes is an investment in humanity’s future.
For more information visit: www.sealegacy.org