The Artic is a treacherous and unforgiving place. From ever-shifting ice flows, impassable glaciers and freezing winds – surviving here is not exactly a walk in the park. But like anywhere on earth, Mother Nature always manages to find a way to make it work – ensuring the Artic is filled to the brim with fascinating wildlife.
The world’s largest land carnivore, polar bears are the undisputed kings of the artic. With their elegant white fur armour providing the ideal camouflage, these lumbering giants maintain an almost ghostlike presence against the icy terrain, occasionally plunging into the freezing water to hunt unsuspecting seals. There’s no denying it – the chance of seeing one of these mighty animals in the flesh is reason enough to travel to the Artic.
More than just a goofy face, the mighty walrus makes for quite the sight (and sound) when lazing on the shores of the artic. Weighing in at up to a whopping 2 tonnes, these bloated beasts are known for their distinctive ivory tusks that can grow up to a metre long. Within each social group, tusks are an important status symbol, but they have a more practical use - acting as mini ice picks that allow the walrus to haul itself out of the water.
Think Walrus’s are the only tusk-clad mammals cruising the seas of the arctic? Think again! Introducing the one and only Narwhal, or as we like to call them “the unicorn of the sea. Due to an evolutionary quirk, Narwhals possess a giant tusk that protrudes from their face, a bizarre feature that seems to baffle scientists the world over. Much of the argument centres around what it is actually used for. Is it a status symbol? A sensory organ? A sword? Anyway, it doesn’t matter – it looks damn cool! The Narwhal is closely related to the beluga whale, another peculiar species that is characterised by it’s milky white skin. We can’t blame them for their lack of a tan though – after all, this is the Artic!
It’s not quite the North Pole, but if Santa ever needs to outsource his workshop further south, then Svalbard certainly has pretty healthy supply of Rudolphs, Vixens and Prancers for him to choose from. Unique to the area, the Svalbard Reindeer have short, stumpy legs and thick coats that make them look a little chubby during the winter months. Unfortunately for Santa, they’re not the hardest working animals - maintaining a mostly sedentary life in order to conserve the energy required to survive the bitterly cold Artic winters.
They might look cute, but the Arctic fox is one tough little critter. Their deep, snow-white layer of fur allows them to live in conditions that would freeze almost any other species of mammal on the planet, and their fur covered paws are specially designed for walking on ice. But for all these hardened features, the Artic Foxes are actually softies at heart – forming monogamous pairs during breeding season and living as one big family in their complex underground homes. Awwwww.
Birds, Birds, glorious birds. Whether you’re a casual twitcher, a full blown ornithologist or just a curious nature-lover, the skies and shores of the Artic are alive with some of the planets most unique feathered friends. It’s estimated that 20 million birds use Barents Sea as their summer residence, including the Little Auk and the Black legged Kittiwake. And if you think your commute is a drag, try telling that to The Artic Tern – a species that fly all the way from Antarctica to spend the summer annual migration here. There’s also the Rock Ptarmigan, who doesn’t mind toughing it out and being the only bird to stay home during the dark winters.
Interested in the wildlife of the polar regions? Think you might get a kick out of spotting some for yourself? Believe us, this is just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak). For more ideas, check out our incredible range of polar trips at: www.intrepidtravel.com/marine/polar