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Animals Up-Close

Encounters with the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home

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Checking Out Churchill

October 26, 2023

By: Laura Thompson

When the invitation came from Frontiers North Adventures to attend their Conservation Journey Tour as a beluga specialist, to share about beluga biology, research and conservation with their guests, it was an easy decision to join! This was the perfect opportunity to share our work and investigate the logistics of bringing Mystic Aquarium’s research efforts to this beluga population.

Located on western Hudson Bay, Churchill sees hundreds of belugas migrate through each summer. The journey to Churchill brought me first to Winnipeg, where I joined the Frontiers North Adventures group for a tour of the Assiniboine Zoo Conservancy’s Journey to Churchill Exhibition, and presentation on the Zoo’s own conservation and research efforts, including citizen science and outreach programs.

The flight to Churchill from Winnipeg, operated by Calm Air, was only about 2.5 hours and went by quickly with the excitement of arrival. We stayed at the Tundra Inn right in town, and over the course of the 6-day tour, we explored tundra, tide pools, local art and history, and of course spent time on the water with the belugas. During this time, we also visited the Churchill Northern Studies Science Center, and Polar Bears International house; connections that provide useful resources in planning future research trips.

Education and outreach, sharing the message of Mystic Aquarium’s research efforts both in scientific, academic, and public forums is an important aspect of our mission to inspire people to care about the oceans and ocean life, and I enjoyed being able to share all of this with the tour guests. One of those messages is that the work we do with the animals under our care leads back to efforts to understand and protect wild populations.

The accessibility of the belugas from Churchill, and their unique behavior of following alongside or behind small boats, provides a unique opportunity to study this population. But, to bring our research here, requires logistical planning not only for lodging and boat access, but for lab space, and sample storage. With some new contacts, and updated information on local resources, I am excited about the next steps of planning and making these field efforts a reality.

Mystic Aquarium Photos by Laura Thompson