The Arctic is a unique region whose land, ice and seas spread across several countries, it’s the perfect backdrop to a dizzying variety of wildlife. It is a land where Polar Bears roam sparkling landmasses and Arctic Foxes flit between snow tundra, where walruses bask along the shoreline and there are no fewer than 17 different species of whales in the sea. Quite simply, The Arctic’s wildlife is startlingly bountiful and truly unforgettable.
It might surprise you to find out that these iconic mammals are classed as marine mammals and not land mammals like their grizzly cousins. This is because they spend so much time swimming, in fact they can swim constantly for days at a time in search of food. Polar Bears can also smell their prey from up to 1km away, and yet less than 2% of polar bear hunts are successful.
Did you know that the Arctic Fox is the only land mammal which is native to Iceland? These small white-furred foxes are amazingly well-adapted for living in extremely low temperatures, sometimes reaching as low as -50°C. They are also incredibly fast, running up to 30 miles (48km) per hour which certainly helps them keep their temperature up!
The Arctic is a brilliant place to go if you want to do some whale watching as it is home to 17 different species of whales, although only Belugas, bowheads and Narwhals populate its waters throughout the year. Others, such as humpback whales, migrate up to The Arctic in the summer in search of food.
Beluga Whales are characterised by their stark white colour and bulbous heads which can actually change shape while the Beluga Whale exhales air. They are one of the most vocal types of whales and because of this they have been nicknamed “the canary of the sea”, they are very social and inquisitive animals, and it’s not unheard of to see 100s of Beluga Whales at once.
Bowhead Whales are great for whale watchers as they are known for their intense social group interactions, which involve leaping out of the water and tail or flipper slapping. These monumental creatures are also incredibly strong and can break through sea ice up to 20cm thick.
These distinctive whales are also known as “Unicorns of the Sea” thanks to their long spiral tusks – which grow over 3 metres in length and because of their reputation of being typically rare to sight ! Narwhals can only be found in the Arctic and, if you’re lucky, a great place to view them is the Canadian Arctic. We have no idea how many Narwhals there are, but it could be anything between 50,000 – 170,000.
These staples of Arctic Life are sometimes called ‘Saddlebacks’ thanks to the saddle-shaped markings on their back but their Latin name, Pagophilus groenlandicus, literally means ‘ice-lover from Greenland’ which is particularly apt as Greenland has the largest Harp Seal population. These seals are good swimmers and can easily dive 300m below sea level, they can also hold their breath underwater for 15 minutes.
Iceland is an excellent place to go if you want to see puffins as 60% of the world’s puffins breed there. The Atlantic Coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada are also ideal places to view these colourful beaked birds. Interestingly, puffins seem to mate for life, with some returning to the same partner 20 years in a row and they don’t build nests, preferring to dig holes instead. Puffins also find flying difficult and often struggle to get in the air, they are actually much better swimmers, using their wings to manoeuvre under water!
Firstly, Walruses are huge with your typical adult measuring between 5.25 – 11.5 feet and weighing up to 1.5 tons, although they do have a 6-inch layer of blubber. Secondly, Walruses seems to have a tusk-based hierarchy with larger tucked individuals commanding more respect. And talking about tusks, the Walrus’ Genus name, Odobenus Rosmarus, means ‘Tooth-walking sea horse’. Lastly, these creatures have been known to sleep uninterrupted for 19 hours and can stay awake for up to 3 and a half days while at sea.