Wildlife in the Arctic

Polar Bears in the Arctic

The world’s largest land predator inspires awe amongst all Arctic travelers – not least because when you’re out looking for polar bears, you’re never quite sure if there’s one out there looking for you.

Known as nanuk by the Canadian Inuit, this cuddly-looking creature is anything but. Weighing up to 550kg, they feed mainly on the blubber of seals which they catch when the seal pops up through a breathing hole in the sea ice. The bears must follow the ice; the seals live at sea, and catching a swimming seal is near impossible. Trapped or beached whales provide a rare but welcome feast – if a carcass is spotted, your ship will likely make a diversion to see if any polar bears are feeding on it.

One of the most sought-after sights is a mother with her cubs. They emerge from their dens in early spring, and make their way to the sea ice. The polar bear’s Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means sea bear, and these creatures actually spend most of their time at sea. 350km is the furthest a polar bear has ever been recorded swimming – so you’ll need to keep an eye on the sea as well as the ice floes to spot the bear!
Watching a mother and cub polar bear for over an hour, watching a male bear stalking reindeer... seeing and hearing a splendid walrus waking up and bellowing atop a small berg echoeing around a small remote glacial bay!! Hearing polar stories ashore, whilst keeping lookout for bears...
- Jonathan Turner, one of our traveler reviews
The subject of surreal songs, stories and poems, the walrus - with its whiskery moustache and old-man skin - is often anthropomorphised in both contemporary and traditional culture.

Walrus in the Arctic

Most people’s first impression of a walrus is how astonishingly large they are – up to 3.5m long and rearing up to shoulder-height. Their distinctive tusks help them haul their blubbery bodies out of the water and onto slippery ice. During the mating season, they are also used as dangerous weapons by aggressive, territorial males. Walrus can be seen in Canada, Greenland, Russia and Alaska throughout the summer – often drifting on ice floes.

Arctic foxes

The Arctic fox is one of the most beautiful creatures to inhabit this snowy landscape. Perfectly camouflaged, their blue-white fur turns brown in summer once the snow melts and the rocks reappear. They use their thick tails for extra warmth, curled in their burrows.
Andrew Appleyard, from our supplier Exodus, had a magical experience watching foxes hunting on Svalbard:
“Just outside of Longyearbyen is probably the best place to see Arctic foxes. They’re at the bottom of one of the bird colonies there. The hatchlings fly from the cliff face straight into the ocean, but quite a lot of them don’t make it. They bounce on the tundra, and the Arctic foxes pick them off. They then bury them in the ground for future use if they get enough. There are a number of Arctic foxes, so a lot of that birds from that colony don’t make it to the water’s edge. The foxes also take eggs from the rookery edge – it’s a great place to see them in action.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Arctic cruising or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
All whales have an air of mystery, but those inhabiting the Arctic waters are more mysterious than most, from the ghostly beluga to the narwhal - the 'sea unicorn'.


The white beluga is one of the smallest whales, living in social pods across the Arctic. It is related to the narwhal, whose long, spiral tusk is actually an oversized tooth, although its purpose has never been discovered. The Inuit still hunt narwhals, whose skin is an important source of vitamin C. The 60-ton bowhead whale has the most enormous mouth of any creature, with 3m-long baleen plates. It is endangered throughout much of it range due to extensive whaling.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: steve estvanik] [Polar bear: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center] [Walrus: Christopher Michel] [Arctic fox: Jonathen Pie] [Whales: Polar Cruises]