Right now, tens of thousands of beluga whales are congregating in the ice-free waters of Canada’s Churchill River and Hudson Bay. The social, bulbous-headed creatures migrate south from the Arctic each summer—and you can watch from the comfort of your home, thanks to online “beluga cams.”
The nonprofit conservation group Polar Bears International is once again launching its beluga live streams, which have aired every summer since 2014 in a bid to raise awareness about global warming and its devastating effect on sea ice.
Belugas—like many other animals—rely on sea ice to survive. Since they don’t have dorsal fins on their backs, the whales can easily escape from predators, such as fast-swimming orcas, by ducking just under the ice. Orcas cannot follow them without risking their dorsal fins getting caught on the ice’s underside.
In addition, sea ice supports a strong and healthy Arctic food chain. Algae grows on the ice, which helps feed microorganisms. Those microorganisms, in turn, feed fish, which serve as a primary source of sustenance for belugas. Polar Bears International likens sea ice to an “ocean garden.”
Polar bears also depend on the ice as a platform for hunting seals, as well as for reaching snow drift-covered land to give birth to their cubs. Plus, ice’s white surface reflects sunlight, cooling the Earth and keeping heat out of the oceans.
But as the planet’s temperature rises because of human activities, sea ice is disappearing—particularly in the Arctic, which is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet. Not only does this imperil the animals and humans that rely on sea ice for survival, but it also affects global climate and weather patterns. For example, scientists expect sea ice loss to contribute to frequent, severe El Niños, the warming weather pattern that is currently driving some of the extreme heat worldwide.
And this isn’t some far-off reality, either: According to a recent projection, the Arctic may have ice-free summers by the 2030s.
As the world shifts around them, belugas continue to complete their migratory journeys. In June and July, roughly 57,000 of the whales swim south to Hudson Bay and the Churchill River to eat, molt and give birth. The river’s shallow waters protect the vulnerable calves from orcas. Then, as summer gives way to fall, these marine mammals will head back north to the safety of the Arctic sea ice.
During this time, Polar Bears International, along with explore.org, streams two live views from a boat moving through the Churchill River and Hudson Bay. Viewers may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a beluga baby, as the creatures often bring their calves right into the field of view, as Alysa McCall, Polar Bears International’s director of conservation outreach, tells ABC News’ Julia Jacobo.
“It’s a pretty special time of the year,” she says to the publication.
As one of the smallest whale species, belugas can grow to between eight and 22 feet long and weigh up to 3,500 pounds, per the World Wildlife Fund. They’ve earned the nickname “canaries of the sea” for the wide array of squeals, chirps, clicks, whistles and other sounds they make while communicating with each other or hunting.
One of the beluga’s most recognizable features is its round forehead known as a “melon.” This squishy tissue can change shape to help the whales direct sounds through the water.
With its underwater camera—which also captures sound—Polar Bears International hopes to foster a connection between wildlife lovers and belugas, with the ultimate goal of spurring people to action to halt human-caused climate change.
“By building some sort of personal admiration or appreciation for an animal, you’re so much more likely to be able to bridge that to actions to actually help the animal,” says McCall to the Weather Network’s Nathan Howes.