Three different continents, namely North America, Europe and Asia, extend into the Arctic. This has allowed a broad distribution of different mammal and bird species.
Arctic animals have special adaptations to cope with the harsh weather conditions and tough landscapes. Thicker layers of fat, fur or long hair protect them from the cold, while white camouflage helps to evade detection. For example, rabbits and baby seals are white so that predators struggle to find them in the snow, but predators such as polar bears and Arctic foxes are also white to avoid detection by their prey. Many animals have also adapted wider feet to distribute their weight across the soft snow, and hairs on the soles of their feet for grip on slippery ice surfaces. During your Arctic Expedition Cruise, skilled naturalist guides will be able to teach you more about the natural history of the Arctic, including the local flora and fauna and their special adaptations.
The most important habitats in the Arctic are by the sea. Even the king of the Arctic, the polar bear, is described as a marine animal since it hunts seals from the ice floes. There is an immensely rich variety of seabirds, including guillemots, auks, terns, divers and ducks. Apart from the polar bear, the most frequently encountered land mammals are the reindeer or caribou, musk ox, Arctic fox and Arctic hare. Marine mammals include seals and the walrus. Fur seals occur in the Bering Strait area.
On the warmer fringes of the ocean there are treeless areas called tundra, plains which are free of ice and snow during the summer. Over 800 species of flowering plant flourish in the Arctic. Arctic plants have to be very small to survive. There are no trees or large plants in the tundra because they are unable to withstand the sharp ice crystals in the wind, or survive the deep ice in the soil, known as permafrost.
Here is a sample of some of the wildlife that you may encounter during Arctic Expedition Cruises:
Polar bear: During their prime feeding months polar bears can be elusive and are rarely seen, but they may be viewed in Svalbard/Spitsbergen during spring and summer.
Caribou: Otherwise known as reindeer, domesticated caribou can be found throughout the Arctic and are very common in northern Russia, Scandinavia and Svalbard in spring and autumn months.
Walrus: Haul outs for walrus can be seen along the coasts of western Greenland, eastern Greenland, Svalbard, northern Scandinavia and western Russia, and bordering the Laptev, Chukchi, and Bering Seas.
Musk ox: These brown, hairy beasts can be found year-round in Greenland.
Bowhead whale: May be seen in the far north Atlantic Ocean between Svalbard and Greenland.
Humpback whale: Off the coast of southern Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, northern Scandinavia, Bering Sea in late August and September.
Orca: Can be seen in west Greenland, northern Scandinavia, Svalbard, and eastern Russia, as well as the Bering Sea, Baffin Bay, Norwegian Sea, and Barents Sea.
Beluga: May be seen off the coast of west Greenland, Svalbard, northern Russia and the Bering Sea.
Narwhal: May be seen near eastern Greenland, Svalbard, and the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Russia.
Arctic fox: Common to the Arctic region
Little auks: Common to the Arctic region