Arctic Wildlife in Spitsbergen

The Arctic island of Spitsbergen is teaming with extraordinary wildlife, especially during the summer months. Our cruises will expose you to a huge variety of animals in the Arctic. The tiny tundra flowers are in full blossom, the birdlife at its peak and the waters are thick with marine life.

Marine mammals

  • Seeing a polar bear in the wild is one of the great thrills of travelling in the Arctic.  Reclassified as a marine mammal, polar bears spend time on the sea ice and mainly hunt at sea. During the summer, they can be found scavenging for eggs on land and are more opportunistic in their feeding behaviour.
  • Walrus are an iconic species of the Arctic with long tusks used for digging through the silt searching for food. Their tusks are also used to haul themselves out of the water and onto ice where they are frequently found. Walrus are notoriously nervous when on land, so need to be observed from a reasonable distance.
  • Whales frequent the waters and are seen when moving between destinations. Ghostly white belugas can be observed but with no dorsal fin they barely break the surface. Bowheads if you are very lucky might be a possibility but more frequent sightings are in Greenland. Narwhals are the Holy Grail and are only likely to be seen in the Canadian Arctic.
  • Other marine mammals include various species of seal including the bearded seal with its long curly whiskers.

Land mammals

  • Arctic fox are small and well adapted to life in the cold Arctic. In Svalbard there are two colour types - blue and white. When the snow starts to melt the white morph Arctic fox sheds the white winter coat for a thinner one but the blue morph stays a brownish blue colour year round. They prey on voles, lemmings, hares and birds. Some can be found searching for eggs and chicks near the bird colonies.  The cubs are also known for their curiosity for noise, and have been known to be whistled from their sets.
  • Svalbard reindeer is a sub-speices of reindeer and only lives in this region. Its characteristic features of short legs, short neck and thick coat make it perfectly adapted for surviving in the Arctic. Reindeer with great antler racks can be seen nibbling on the short grasses at Hornsund and the gentle clicking of their hooves can be heard. Their tame nature allows for close encounters.
  • Tiny lemmings sometimes are heard but not seen scurrying in the lichens and tundra in district vegetation tunnels.

Birdlife

Although some species migrate south to warmer climes there are many that breed here in vast numbers.

  • The comical auks are plentiful and look similar to penguins but can fly.
  • Towering sea cliffs of gannets can be observed while guillemots cling to the narrowest ledges whose eggs are pointed so they roll in a circle and not over the edge when knocked. 
  • Eider ducks nest on land so are often at risk from predators such as bears and foxes.
  • Arctic terns nest between small stones and are great parents screaming and dive bombing anything that comes too close, including humans. Their tiny fluffy chicks are fantastically camouflaged in the pebbles.  
  • Puffins are the colourful clowns and everyone's favourite.  Nesting in burrows they can be seen flying in with mouthfuls of food.  

 

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