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Memorial rock painted on the last day of Beluga boat season

Memorial rock painted on the last day of Beluga boat season

Goodbye to Belugas, Summer, and Dear Friends

By Hayley Shephard, Beluga Boat Captain

The summer season seems to move through so swiftly in the Churchill region, influenced by our 58 degrees of latitude and the Sub-Arctic climes. It would have been much easier to end the Beluga Boat Season had we experienced a typical fall day with strong bitingly cold winds blowing from the Northwest and dwindling Belugas. Our last two days on the water certainly felt as though the whales were rapidly moving north, but the weather offered sunshine, calm seas and there was welcoming warmth to the air.

As the Beluga season draws to a close, I cannot help but reflect on the summer that has been. It is a particularly emotional end, due to the tragic way it began. During my first day in Churchill, as we rigged the Beluga Boat ready, a family whom I knew ventured out on the Churchill River by canoe: a father, two children, a son and daughter, and two small dogs. A sudden capsize occurred and after spending approximately 30 minutes in the turbulent frigid water and numerous hours in our hospital Emergency, a dear little five year old girl did not make it and one dog was never found again. This tragedy numbed the town of Churchill.

It was difficult to bounce back from this awful beginning and even though the Belugas visited our Zodiac cloaked in curiosity, I was unable to feel the joy. A dark and foreboding shadow lingered over the Churchill River. It was after receiving the news of the four year old boy, awakening from a coma that brought hope and the will to move through these dark times and welcome back the joy of what the Belugas bring to all of us.

Despite it being officially ‘Beluga Season’, it was the season for Polar bears. We had numerous encounters of summer bears play-fighting in the shallow waters around Eskimo Point and I recall the mix of emotions as we escorted the mother and her two young cubs across the river away from the town. Having the opportunity to snorkel with Belugas was a highlight as I got the chance to hear the surround sound from their vocalizations with my own ears, and not being able to see them when hearing them due to the limited visibility, added to the experience. And finally, the sudden glimpse of a bearded seal and numerous sightings of new born calves, some which approached the Beluga boat so closely, will all be stored in my memory as special moments.

Most days I had a boat full of locals who delighted in the company of their ‘backyard’ visitors. It is always a pleasure spending time with and hearing stories from those who call Churchill their full time home, including our enthusiastic interns who absorbed this experience of a lifetime like a sponge.

During the final moments of our last tour, with the engine turned off, I drifted with the current on a mirrored sea and said goodbye to the Belugas, wishing the new born calves a successful first winter. I also said farewell to my dear buddy Ringo the dog, and the beautifully spirited five year old Danica. They will always be fondly remembered, swimming free amongst the Belugas for all the summers to come.

  • imagine

    God Bless,Danica and Ringo,may they enter Heaven to together and share tons of joy and laughter…and to the Family have the peace that they are together…God Bless…

  • Yolanda Barendregt

    Thank you Hayley for your trust in us showing your emotions and the story of Danika and her family and im sure Ringo is with her to keep her company. Your an amzing soul and an inspiration and teacher for many of us and i hope to see you again next year on the Beluga boat. Stay safe in everything you do. Love and Hugs from Yolanda from the Netherlands <3

  • foolkillersrfancy

    All of us that were watching on that final day felt your emotions and heartbreak. Thank you, Hayley for baring your soul and for sharing your wonderful Belugas with us.

  • LuvBears

    The memorial rock is a lovely tribute to your young friend. I have thought of her, and you often since your last day on the beluga boat. . Danica will be remembered by so many because of you. I hope that you can feel the love and compassion that so many felt for you that day and that you realize how much your time, shared knowledge and spirit is appreciated by all that had the opportunity to join your beluga excursions. It was a remarkable experience with a remarkable lady. Be well and stay safe <3

  • Ingride

    Captain Hayley, I am so sorry about Danica and Ringo. If I saw you, I would give you a big hug. We love you and the belugas at my house so much. I want to work for Explore some day! I watch the orcas and the bears but I can’t wait for next summer, the belugas are the best. I miss them and you and the beluga boat. Thank you so much for showing me belugas and all the adventures! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • http://www.naturalimagescanada.ca LuckyStrike

    Thank you Hayley for having the strength to contine on this summer , despite such a tragic beginning. I speak for myself but know you have a large number of followers that so enjoy hearing you talk about the things you love.. like Belugas and Polar Bears!
    The Beluga Boat season seems like a distant memory now, rather dreamlike but vivid scenes of graceful white and grey forms drift through my mind.(and of course Polar Bears jousting on a sun filled day in the Churchill River)
    My heart goes out to the family of the perished Danica and Ringo … May time heal these losses.
    Take care on your next adventures, Hayley ….. I look forward to hearing your voice and enthusiastic descriptions of whatever you are sharing with us on this amazing planet. All the very best… Terry

  • abcayemich

    Thank you Capt. Hayley for making it through that horrible time, and finding the joy ,once again in the whales, and the strength of the people, and the beauty of the waters and the wildlife. God bless you as you continue onto the Bears, and so on…Can’t wait to maybe see you at the buggy and especially back with our beloved Belugas. Stay safe and well, and Thank You for the amazing summer. BIG hugs and much love to you and yours.

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  • Pamela Andriani

    This is a wonderful farewell sbuah for Danica and Ringo, and they were very distressed and kept in mind by all passengers Beluga Boat worldwide. Captain Hayley is at the heart of the boat Beluga in all respects. I am very grateful to you because they share their heart with all of us. Your spirit is so so inspiring to trigger thoughts arise feel old and young. Nice and good. Please Visit My Website : http://www.recaap.org/UserProfile/tabid/43/userId/15655/Default.aspx