The Arctic - the planet’s northernmost region - is a mysterious realm replete with the world’s most jaw-dropping landscapes. This mind-bending place might appear magnificently empty at first, but if you look closer, you’ll discover that it teems with life. Among the calving glaciers, ice-choked fjords, and snow-dappled peaks, a myriad of weird and wonderful animals find their home.
From the Arctic fox to the bowhead whale and polar bear, the Arctic offers plenty of opportunities to meet these remarkable creatures in the flesh. Going on an Arctic Cruise is one of the best ways to do this. Yet it might get tricky when it comes to choosing the best date for your visit, as Arctic wildlife has a strict schedule, dictated by the harsh climate.
But don't worry, we’ve compiled a helpful arctic animals list explaining when you can see the various Arctic fauna, ensuring that you choose the right cruise for you. Read on and discover more about the elusive animals that call the Arctic home.
Superpowers: This tiny creature, approximately the size of a large cat, might just be the Arctic’s friendliest animal. So don’t be surprised if one of them comes to your feet to say hello. It’s remarkable that an animal with a body length of just ~46 cm (18 in) can survive the world’s most frigid temperatures.
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. Interestingly, the Arctic Fox is the only mammal in the canid family that has furry paws. These warm winter clothes allow the fox to survive temperatures as low as -70°C (-94 °F)!
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.
To live 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, lasting from May to September.
Superpowers: 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), making it almost as big as the enormous blue whale.
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!
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. Their genome is being studied by scientists to find out 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.
Superpowers: The polar bear, otherwise known as “the King of the Arctic”, is the apex predator of the North, meaning it fears nothing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the world’s most powerful carnivores live easy lives.
They spend their whole lives traveling the ice sheets in search of food. Polar bears 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). This was reported by a study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.
However, the rapid loss of summer sea ice forces these cuddly-looking animals to go on farther and longer swims. With the ice retreating earlier in spring and forming later in winter, polar bears struggle to find food. Unfortunately, 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.
Superpowers: 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 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.
These residents of the polar regions of the Northern Hemisphere 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.
Superpowers: Inhabiting the frozen wastes of the Arctic for thousands of years, these ancient animals are survivors of the last ice age. They 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 oxen live in herds and graze on various plants. Their diet consists of lichen, roots, and mosses. It might come as a surprise that such big herbivore weighing up to 363 kg (800 lb) survives during the Arctic winter season. The truth is that the musk ox is equipped with sharp hooves, which can dig into the snow and reach the hidden vegetation 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.
Superpowers: 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 better grip on slippery surfaces. Thanks to these multipurpose tools, reindeers are also known as good swimmers.
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 monochrome surroundings of the Arctic, due to contrasting colors on the UV spectrum.
Moreover, a recent study discovered that reindeers' eyes change color from gold to blue throughout the seasons. This unique adaptation allows these beautiful mammals to adapt to the extreme changes in light levels during the various Arctic seasons. In this way, they can 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 during spring migration and from late August to late September when the fall migration takes place.
Superpowers: 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.
There are many different theories centered around the mystery of the tusk, and the main one holds that is actually used as a display of dominance during mating rituals. 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. In the past, Inuit people were dependent on it to ward off scurvy.
Best time for a date: June
Superpowers: Called the giants of the Arctic, walruses are full of surprises. You’ve probably already heard about their iconic ivory tusks. These are enlarged canines that can grow to sizes of about 1 m (3 ft) and are found on both males and females. Fascinatingly, walruses use their tusks to haul themselves up onto the ice!
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.
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. In addition, these imposing Arctic animals use their greyish whiskers to detect prey in the dark Arctic waters.
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
Superpowers: 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 are blessed with fascinating vocal abilities earning them the nickname “the canaries of the sea.”
Squeaks, chirps, and whistles are their main communication tools and help them to navigate the pitch-black waters of the Arctic. Interestingly, they are also known to be able to mimic the voices of humans without any training.
When on an Arctic cruise, prepare to be enchanted by their peculiar smiling face. Beluga whales have a melon-shaped head which is flexible allowing them to make various 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. This strange occurrence left scientists scratching their heads in amazement.
Best time for a date: From July to August
One could say that these creatures that dwell in the Arctic deserve to be called superheroes. From seeing in ultraviolet light to an extraordinary sense of smell and the ability to slow their heart rate, the Arctic is full of weird and wonderful creatures perfectly adapted to their surroundings.
So, have you already picked a favorite? Jump onboard an Arctic cruise and see the planet’s most interesting wildlife for yourself!
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