One of the greatest thrills of a polar adventure is the opportunity to see whales—sometimes in pods—swimming in the ocean. Travelers and nature-lovers are endlessly fascinated by these majestic mammals that rise out of the water, splash in the waves, and then disappear back to the ocean depths on the hunt for their next meal.
Among the rarest and intriguing whales are the beluga whales. Belugas are frequently spotted throughout Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, preferring colder climates and areas largely untouched by humans, and, significantly in the past, where there was no whaling industry.
However, as the summer season approaches, many belugas will migrate from the center of the Arctic south to the northern coasts of Canada and Greenland. In fact, a Canadian conservatory group known as the Assiniboine Park Conservancy developed a Beluga Whale Live Cam so that viewers from home could observe belugas as they migrated towards the northern coast of the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Beluga whales in the Canadian Arctic.Photo: Quark Expeditions
Most common places to see beluga whales in the Wild
When not appearing on live camera feeds, beluga whales are most commonly found in Arctic regions. Adventurers who visit northern Canada, Greenland, and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago are in prime locations to see belugas swimming and playing in their natural habitats.
Here at Quark Expeditions, we’ve created a guide for Svalbard adventurers on how to experience whale watching in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. In addition to the helpful tips on how to enjoy whale watching in and around these islands, principally Spitsbergen, we’ve created a list of travel recommendations for whale-watching in Svalbard.
As a bonus, you’ll get to see other wildlife native to the Svalbard islands. In addition to whales, polar bears are frequently spotted across Svalbard. You’ll have the best opportunity to witness these amazing animals as they approach the shoreline while hunting for seals and other marine animals along the ice edge.
When is the best time of year to see beluga whales in the wild?
Summertime is prime time for whale watching. This is the time of year when whales, especially belugas, will migrate away from the center of the Arctic Circle and navigate towards sub-Arctic regions on the cusp of the northern ocean.
You can book any of our Svalbard adventures for an opportunity to see beluga whales near the archipelago. We recommend the Spitsbergen In Depth: Big Islands, Big Adventure expedition as this 14-day experience gives you a chance to explore the biggest island of the Svalbard archipelago.
The summer months melt the thickest ice sheets surrounding the islands, which allows polar vessels, like our new technologically-advanced Ultramarine, to safely navigate the waters surrounding Svalbard, including the island of Spitsbergen. Our 20 quick-launching Zodiacs enable you to explore the polar environment of Svalbard whenever there are wildlife sightings, including beluga whales, polar bears, and other animals that inhabit the region.
Interesting facts about beluga whales in the wild
One of the most interesting facts about beluga whales is that they’re very social creatures. Unlike orcas or pilot whales, which largely restrict social interaction to members of their own pods, beluga whales are known to interact with different classes of whales, mammals, and other wildlife that swim through the ocean. Scientists deem belugas as similar to humans in this regard for their ability to seamlessly engage with species of different backgrounds.
Belugas are known to dive for up to 25 minutes underwater and they can reach depths as far as 800 meters down into the ocean. They’re also one of the few mammals that can swim backward without hassle, making belugas efficient hunters and trackers throughout the sea.
For those of you that like to know about the relationship between different types of mammals, you’ll enjoy this fun fact. Belugas are very similar to narwhal whales in that both are the only two species that make up the Monodontidae family of whales. Narwhals are commonly seen around Iceland and southern Greenland so you can assume that opportunities may arise to see beluga whales near those polar destinations as well.
How can you see beluga whales in the wild?
One of our experienced expedition leaders led a team of explorers through the Canadian Arctic to explore the fabled northwest passage that once transfixed European adventurers. During this voyage, these adventurers witnessed dozens of beluga whales swimming near the shorelines and they hopped aboard Zodiac vessels to view the pods of whales. You may even see other animals native to the Canadian Arctic.
This fabled journey is one of many experiences you can experience by booking the Northwest Passage: In The Footsteps of Franklin voyage. This is a 17-day adventure in which you fly from Toronto to the small community of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. From there, you’ll board your vessel and sail throughout Baffin Bay, and make stops in Inuit communities across Baffin Island. You’ll have the chance to see whales as you approach Dundas Harbour and Beechey Island en route to the community of Resolute, which is the final destination of your journey and where you’ll board a plane back to Toronto.
Arctic wildlife cruise
Of course, beluga aren't the only whale species guests get to observe in the wild on voyages with Quark Expeditions. In this photo, guests enjoy an amazing experience with a humpback whale in the Arctic. Photo: Acacia Johnson
One other area of the sub-Arctic with great potential to see beluga whales in the wild is in and around Greenland. That’s why our Under The Northern Lights: Exploring Iceland and East Greenland adventure is such a popular journey for polar adventurers who are keen to experience an Arctic wildlife cruise.
This is a 14-day voyage that begins in the capital of Iceland and traverses the Arctic Circle towards the southeast shores of Greenland. The best opportunity to witness whales, including belugas, will come on Day 4 of the journey as you approach the Denmark Strait. Your travel guides will help point out areas where whale pods are likely to emerge from the ocean depths so that you can get your camera ready to capture the moment.