In the dramatic and imposing frozen frontier of the Arctic, wildlife happily thrives. Come and meet the Wildlife of the Arctic, a group of hardy creatures who call the Far North home.
The sensory overload of an Arctic expedition begins even before you actually get anywhere near the region. The further north you travel, the more dramatic and stark the landscape. And by the time your plane has touched down at your destination, be it Greenland, Svalbard, northern Russia or Canada, you’ll probably be left wondering what kind of wildlife could possibly survive this far north. Even in the height of summer, when flora blossoms and colours abound, the Arctic doesn’t fool around. This is a land of extremes, where cold and winds don’t come in half measures. So you know whatever wildlife lives here year round, or heads here to feed in spring and summer, would have to comprise some incredibly unique creatures.
Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic region comprises land masses from several countries, enabling wildlife to migrate in and out of the region at will without the need to fly or swim for thousands of kilometres. For this reason, the wildlife of the Arctic is both varied and extensive, and includes animals that live in the region permanently and those who migrate seasonally.
For thousands of years, the wildlife of the Arctic has evolved to be able to cope with the harsh conditions and now constitute one of the most unique and awe-inspiring group of animals on the planet. A very sophisticated web of food has created a complex ecosystem, one that attracts birds and large mammals en masse during the summer months. There’s an indescribable respect and awe one feels towards any creature that lives in the Arctic, even if only seasonally, and a wildlife-watching expedition here is an absolutely magnificent experience.
Spitzbergen (Svalbard) is the renowned wildlife headquarters of the Arctic but that is not to say it is the only place where you’ll come face to face with wildlife. On the contrary, close encounters with polar bears (but not too close!), whales, walruses, narwhals, seals, caribou, moose, wolves, muskox, an impressive number of migratory birds and even Grizzly Bears can be found all over the Arctic.
Here are just some of the wildlife you’re likely to encounter when you visit the Arctic.
The most famous, majestic, loved and feared Arctic animal of all, the polar bear boasts black skin to better absorb heat and transparent fur that sparkles white with the reflection of the sun. Like all ‘furry’ Arctic animals, the polar bear’s fur is made up of hollow strands of hair, which trap air and help insulation. Best sighted in spring and summer, the polar bear is an active creature during these prime feeding seasons. You can find out more about the polar bear’s vital role in the Arctic’s ecosystem here.
This gorgeous and very clever animal has the ability to change its fur’s colour in accordance with the season. When the landscape is stark white, so is its fur. When the Arctic tundra turns to a light brown, a fox’s hair follows suit. A truly amazing adaptation which allows the Arctic Fox to live in the Arctic all year long. The Arctic Fox is the land animal which lives farther north than any other.
Much like whales and seals, walruses boast a healthy layer of blubber (fat) that help them deal with the cold. Extensively spotted off the various Arctic coastlines, from Canada to Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia.
Migratory caribou are still the primary food source for indigenous tribes in northern Alaska and Canada. This gentle giant is now a domesticated animal and can be seen through all regions in the Arctic.
A subspecies of the grey wolf, the Arctic wolf roams in packs of half a dozen members, and can be spotted in the northern regions of Greenland and Canada. One of the most distinctive evolutionary characteristics of the Arctic wolf is that it has much smaller ears, compared to other wolf species. This, together with a second layering of fur, is an adaptation to the harsh conditions of the Arctic region.
The frigid cold waters of the Arctic are home to the beautiful and endangered Beluga whale and attract orca whales, toothy narwhals, bowhead and humpbacks. The prime humpback watching period starts in mid-August.
The prime grizzly viewing destinations are Alaska and Canada. However, they have also been randomly sighted in the Russian and Scandinavian Arctic regions in summer.
The cute-as-a-button ermine, with its big round eyes, button nose and fluffy white fur, is actually a formidable hunter. This meat-eating beast kills its prey by crushing the base of its skull. So don’t let the cuteness fool you!
A variety of seal species can be spotted in the Arctic, including harp, hooded, bearded, spotted and ring seals.
Over 200 different species of birds migrate to feed on blooming flora and fish during the spring and summer months. The most distinctive of these are bald eagles, guillemots and the particularly cute puffin.
Best Time to See Wildlife in the Arctic
Cruising the arctic at the beginning of spring (from May each year) grants rare glimpses of polar bears and grizzlies emerging from their dens, as well as migrating caribou in search of an optimal summer resting location.
At the height of the summer season (July) you’ll encounter the warmest temperatures of the year, whist August and September are best for whale-watching trips and also for the priceless chance to spot the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis.
Ready to come and meet the wildlife of the Arctic face to face? Then check out our extensive range of Arctic cruise itineraries and start planning your ultimate adventure in the northernmost, and most astonishing, region of the world. With a range of cruise duration, costs and array of destinations, the Arctic region is now more accessible than ever. Contact us for more info.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”