9 Arctic Animals You Can See in the North

Wild animals of Greenland and Canada

Milda Varniene

|May 28, 2019

Milda is a content writer with a particular interest in philosophy and nature. She is passionate about wildlife and all the nitty-gritty details of travel.


The North is home to a rich world of arctic animals and marine life. From the arctic fox to the beluga whale, here are some of the weird and wonderful animals that live in the Arctic.


From the Arctic fox to the bowhead whale and polar bear, the Arctic offers lots of opportunities to meet these remarkable creatures in the flesh. Going on an Arctic Cruise is one of the best ways to do this.

We’ve compiled a helpful list of arctic animals with all their quirky behaviors and fun facts. You'll also learn the best season to see each one!

Read on and discover more about the elusive animals that call the Arctic home.

1. Arctic Fox

Characteristics: This tiny creature, about the size of a large cat, might just be the Arctic’s friendliest animal. Don’t be surprised if one of them comes to your feet to say hello!

The Arctic Fox boasts many unique adaptations and is famous for its multi-layered fluffy fur. The white coat protects the body from freezing colds and serves as camouflage.

It’s remarkable that an animal with a body length of just ~46 cm (18 in) can survive the world’s most frigid temperatures. These warm winter clothes allow the fox to survive temperatures as low as -70°C (-94 °F)! Brrr!

Arctic Fox

White Arctic fox

If it’s too cold, the Arctic Fox’s beautiful long tail wraps around its body and serves as an additional winter coat. In the case of blizzards, it digs into the snow to stay warm and safe.  

Interestingly, the Arctic Fox is the only canine that has furry paws.

Living in the Arctic your whole life is not an easy challenge, but this plucky little fox seems to enjoy it! Arctic foxes have even been spotted on sea ice, not far away from the North Pole.

Best time for a date: All year-round. That said, you’re most likely to see Arctic foxes during the main season of Arctic cruises, from May to September.

2. Bowhead Whale

Characteristics: The Bowhead whale is the only species of whales that lives its whole life in the biting waters of the Arctic. This whale can grow up to 18 m (60 ft) long and weighs up to 90,000 kg (~99 US ton)! 

Now it’s time for some mind-boggling facts! These enigmatic creatures lack dorsal fins but use their massive skulls to break through the Arctic ice to breathe.

They’re slow swimmers but are able to leap entirely out of the water!

 

Bowhead Whale

Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus)

The other fascinating thing about the bowhead whale is its remarkable lifespan and resistance to disease. These denizens of the Arctic waters can live for over 200 years and are the longest-living mammals on Earth. Scientists are studying their genome to learn more about how they manage to live such long and healthy lives.

Bowhead whales are as mysterious as they are surprising. Recent studies found that these whales are talented singers, spreading various sounds throughout the ocean.

While we still don’t know the exact purpose of these sounds, their complex songs will fill you with wonder.

Best time for a date: From July to August when they emerge from deep waters to feed along the floe edge.

3. Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus)

Characteristics: The polar bear, otherwise known as “the King of the Arctic,” is the apex predator of the North.

Just because it's one of the most powerful carnivores alive, though, this doesn't exactly mean an easy life. 

Polar bears spend their whole lives traveling the ice sheets in search of food. They mostly prey on ringed and bearded seals and can smell their prey nearly 1.6 km (1 mi) away!

Polar bears are also excellent swimmers, able to swim over 48 km (30 mi) in one go. While their slightly webbed front paws serve as paddles, their hind feet help to steer.

They have even been known to swim vast distances, even as far as 354 km (220 mi)!

In recent years, the rapid loss of summer sea ice has forced these cuddly-looking animals to go on farther and longer swims. Melting ice means polar bears often struggle to find food.

Sadly, this majestic mammal has become the face of climate change and the threat it poses.

Best time for a date: From July to August when they come closer to the shore.

See more polar bears on our special wildlife watching tours. 

4. Thick-Billed Murre

Thick Billed Murre

Thick-Billed Murre (Uria lomvia)

Characteristics: Often called the penguins of the North, thick-billed murres are famous for their superb underwater diving abilities. They can dive to depths of more than 91 m (330 ft) or twice that, descending at a maximum speed of about 2 m (6.5 ft) per second!

This makes the thick-billed murre the record-holder for the deepest dive among all birds!

When it comes to flying, murres have a rough time of it. This is because the thick-billed murre has the smallest wings per body mass of any flying bird.

Their stubby wings might not be ideal for flying, but they are perfect for diving underwater.

Thick-billed murres are distinguished by their half-black and half-white feather coats. They don't build nests, but lay eggs on rocky cliffs and protect them with pebbles cemented with feces.

Best time for a date: From May to June.

Musk Ox

Characteristics: Inhabiting the frozen wastes of the Arctic for thousands of years, these ancient animals are survivors of the last ice age.

Musk oxen are perfectly adapted to the harshest of weather conditions with wooly undercoats and outer shaggy hairs almost reaching the ground. Their thick fur has even better thermal insulation than sheep's wool and is considered to be the warmest in the world.

Musk Ox Canada

Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus)

They are also gigantic, weighing up to 363 kg (800 lb)!

Musk oxen live in herds and graze on lichen, roots, and mosses. They hunt for these plants with their sharp hooves, which can dig into the snow and reach the hidden greens below.

Their main predators are wolves and polar bears. If they are attacked, bulls and cows form a circle around their young, sticking their hooked horns into anything that threatens.

Best time for a date: From July to August.

6. Reindeer or Caribou

Characteristics: Also known as caribou in North America, reindeer inhabit the Arctic and subarctic regions and migrate annually in large herds.

These graceful animals feed on various grasses which they can easily dig out with their sharp hollowed out hooves.

In winter, the hooves shrink in size to give them a better grip on slippery surfaces. Thanks to these hooves, reindeers are also known as good swimmers.

Brown Reindeer

Reindeer or Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)

Most interestingly, reindeer are the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light, reflected by white snow. This sophisticated adaptation lets these animals spot predators or hidden lichen in the simple colors of the Arctic.

A recent study discovered that reindeers' eyes change color from gold to blue throughout the seasons. This allows them to detect predators like the Arctic wolf in the 24-hour daylight of summer and the continual darkness of winter.

Best time for a date: From March until late June (spring migration) then from late August to late September (fall migration). 

7. Narwhal

Characteristics: The narwhal is one of the most peculiar animals of the Arctic. This enigmatic creature is also called the unicorn of the sea because of its incredibly long, spiral tusk. The tusk can grow up to 3 m (10 ft) and is actually a front tooth that grows out of the upper lip.

Interestingly, we still don't know the exact purpose of the tusk, which was considered a valuable gift among royalty in medieval times.

Some theories believe that it's used as a display of dominance during mating rituals.

Narwhal In Canada

Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)

Usually, only males develop this "horn," however around 15% of females also grow a tusk, though it is usually shorter.

Another fascinating fact about narwhal is related to the amount of vitamin C that is found in its skin. It's known that one ounce of its skin contains as much vitamin C as half an orange. Inuit people used narwhal skin to ward off scurvy. 

Best time for a date: June

8. Walrus

Characteristics: Called the giants of the Arctic, walruses are full of surprises. You’ve probably already heard about their iconic ivory tusks! The tusks are enlarged teeth that can grow to sizes of about 1 m (3 ft) and are found on both males and females. 

Over millions of years, walruses have developed fantastic adaptation mechanisms to survive in the freezing waters of the Arctic.

Walruses are able to slow their heart rate and redirect blood away from certain organs, allowing them to stay underwater for extended periods of time.

Brown Walrus

Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)

Walruses might move awkwardly on land but don’t be fooled! They are skilled swimmers and can easily reach speeds of up to 35 km/h (~22 mi/h) underwater. 

Walruses are among the world’s most social animals and very vocal in nature. They use a variety of noises like growls, whistles, and klicks to communicate with each other.

Expect to meet these cinnamon-brown mammals in large herds basking on coastlines and drifting on sheets of ice, from where they forage for clams and mussels.

Best time for a date: July

9. Beluga Whale

Characteristics: Belugas are the most charming residents of the Arctic waters. Distinguished by their striking white skin, these beautiful animals travel in groups known as pods.

They're blessed with fascinating vocal abilities earning them the nickname “the canaries of the sea.”

They use squeaks, chirps, and whistles to communicate and navigate in pitch-black waters. Interestingly, they are also known to be able to mimic the voices of humans without any training.

Browse more whale tours in Canada on our wildlife watching tours

Beluga Whale

Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

When on an Arctic cruise, prepare to be enchanted by their peculiar smiling face. Beluga whales are known for their melon-shaped heads and facial expressions. Pretty amazing, huh?

The beluga whale is the closest relative of the mysterious narwhal and there is at least one known case of a narwhal adopted by a group of belugas in Canada’s St. Lawrence River. 

Best time for a date: From July to August. 

 


From adapting to extreme temperatures to figuring out creative ways to find food, these Arctic animals are a wonder. 

What’s your favorite wild animal? Let us know in the comments!

Book an Arctic Cruise today to see these and other wildlife favorites!