You’d think that since I’m barely leaving the house these days, I’d be watching a ton of new shows, but as it were, it’s hard to watch TV during a pandemic. Against a backdrop of mass death, pretty much everything feels too light or too heavy. Except, apparently, this new beluga whale live cam.
The conservation organisations Polar Bears International and Explore.org launched the new live cam on Wednesday to document the tens of thousands of beluga whales that travel from the Arctic to the waters off of Churchill, Manitoba each summer. The underwater camera, which is also outfitted with an underwater microphone, is currently attached to a boat that captains are guiding along the Churchill River Estuary. And dude, I can’t stop watching this thing.
The live feed is totally mesmerising. The whales are so playful and cute, and they’re gregarious, too. They make weird-arse squeaky noises that kind of sound like cute television static. Sometimes you hear them chirp and squeal loudly and bump into the camera, while other times they’re totally chill. And there’s occasional appearances and commentary from the ship captains on an above-deck camera to keep things interesting.
This is the seventh consecutive year that the environmental organisations launched the live feed, which they created to call attention to melting Arctic ice. The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and the resulting sea ice retreat is upending the region. Among other impacts, it’s fucking up the ecosystems that animals rely on to survive, including not only polar bears and other land-based animals, but also beluga whales.
In the winter when there’s plenty of sea ice around, many belugas hang out in the northernmost areas of the Hudson Bay. But when conditions get warmer and the ice begins to melt, the whales migrate southwest to the estuaries where the bay meets the Churchill River — that’s the journey the live cam is documenting right now.
The problem is the the Arctic’s winter freeze-ups are happening later due to the rising heat, but researchers aren’t sure belugas are all adapting to those changes and delaying their journeys. That may be putting them out of sync with their prey. Belugas are also part of a food chain which relies on algae that grows on ice floes. With less ice around, there’s less algae available for animals to eat. Plus, beluga whales often hide beneath sea ice from their predators. As if we needed another reason to urgently curb carbon emissions.
Polar Bears International told Gizmodo the cam will be up until the first or second week of September, when they expect the belugas will head north to the open waters of the Hudson Bay. You can watch it now. I know I’ll be.