Day 1 - August 25, 2013 - Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
By Chris Cutler, Biologist
Co-ordinates: 58° 46.41’ N, 54° 11.53’ W
Weather: Mostly overcast
Air Temperature: 13° C, 55° F
Pressure: 1009 hPa
A complement of new guests and a few crewmembers assembled in the aptly named “General Aviation Building” near the Winnipeg International Airport, filling the space with talk of the upcoming expedition. We boarded a chartered Boeing 737 and after a brief shuffle of weight to the aft, we were off. The trip north across the length of Manitoba Province was smooth, and within a couple hours we touched down in the considerably more remote outpost of Churchill, a place not reachable by road.
Four buses, (said to be the entire fleet of Churchill), took us on a short trip across the once glacially dominated landscape of this far-flung population centre. Our drivers pointed out some of the sites along the way, such as the recycling centre that isolates all disposables from polar bears, and the old cargo plane that caught its fixed rear wheel on a cable and made a forced landing prior to the runway. Just before the Port, we passed by the railroad tracks where Canada geese nibbled on spilt grain, and then arrived to the Silver Explorer, our home for the next couple weeks.
Warmly welcomed aboard by Expedition Leader Kara Weller, we enjoyed a buffet lunch and got settled into our suites. We mustered a bit later in the Lecture Theatre for a Mandatory Safety Briefing and Lifeboat Drill where we were introduced to the ship’s safety procedures and shown the lifeboats.
The scene from the port decks was spectacular: several dozen Beluga whales swimming and diving in the Churchill River. The conditions outside were calm and clear and we enjoyed excellent studies of these enigmatic Arctic cetaceans. There were bright white adults and grayish calves, some of them likely newborn, as this is an important site for the western Hudson Bay population of Belugas to migrate to, give birth in the river estuary, moult, and migrate back out of the Bay toward the growing seasonal sea ice which they closely associate with.
In the early evening we gathered in the Theater with Expedition Leader Kara for introductions to our voyage, some of the key personnel among the crew, and the members of the Expedition Team.
Dinner was served in the restaurant and a relaxing evening was had. For those tired from their half day of travel an early night was had, though some opted for a trip to nearby ‘downtown’, taking transportation and minding not to walk there just in case a polar bear might be in the area. We were pleased to have arrived ‘safe and sound’ aboard the ship.
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