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Polar bears, orcas, and walruses: A guide to the fascinating animals of the North

The Arctic is a vast and remote region that is home to a diverse array of wildlife, from majestic polar bears to playful Arctic foxes. Here's a guide to some of the fascinating animals you’ll encounter in the Great White North, along with interesting facts and tips for when and where to see them.

The Arctic is a wildlife destination unlike any other. From the majestic polar bear to the playful Arctic fox, the region is home to a diverse array of creatures that are perfectly adapted to life in this harsh and remote environment. Whether you're interested in seeing whales breach in the icy waters, watching a pod of orcas hunt, or observing the unique adaptations of Arctic foxes, there's no shortage of amazing wildlife to discover in the North.

Polar Bears

Mama polar bear with two cubs in the Arctic

Polar bears are perhaps the most iconic of Arctic animals, and for good reason. These majestic creatures are the largest land predators in the world and are perfectly adapted to life in the harsh Arctic environment. They have thick fur to keep them warm, large paws for walking on ice, and an incredible sense of smell that allows them to find prey even in the vast expanse of the Arctic.

They are opportunistic hunters that target seals, walruses, fish and more. They’re also expert swimmers, capable of swimming for long distances in search of food. But it’s not all business! Polar bears are known for their playful behavior and social interactions, particularly among females and cubs.

The best time to see polar bears in the wild is in the late summer and early fall, when the sea ice begins to break up and the bears come ashore to hunt for food. Churchill, Canada, is one of the most popular destinations for polar bear viewing, with tours available from late October to early November.


Walruses lounging on a beach in the Arctic

Walruses are known for their distinctive tusks and blubbery bodies. They spend much of their time in the water, feeding on clams, mussels, and other bottom-dwelling creatures. They’re a noisy lot and their vocalizations can range from grunts and snores to high-pitched whistles.

Walruses are social animals and can often be seen on ice floes or beaches in large groups, or "herds." Adult male walruses can weigh over 3,000 pounds, while females are slightly smaller. Their long tusks are actually elongated canine teeth and are used for several purposes, including helping them haul themselves out of the water and as weapons in battles with other males.

The best time to see walruses is in the summer, when they congregate in large groups on land or ice floes. One of the best places to see walruses is in Svalbard, Norway.

Arctic Foxes

Arctic foxes

Arctic foxes are small but hardy creatures that are found throughout the Arctic region, all year ’round. They have thick fur coats that change color with the seasons, from brown in the summer to white in the winter, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. They’re also known for their playful nature and are often seen frolicking in the snow. Arctic foxes will eat whatever they can catch, including lemmings, voles, and birds.


Beluga whale, narwhal whale, and bowhead whale

The Arctic is home to several species of whales. These magnificent creatures are known for their size and beauty, as well as their importance to the Arctic ecosystem.

Beluga whales. These medium-sized toothed whales are known for their distinctive white color, which helps them blend in with the ice and snow. Their vocalizations are among the most complex of any animal. Beluga whales are social creatures and often travel in pods of up to 10 individuals. They’re opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of prey, including fish, squid, and crustaceans. They are also known for their unique ability to echolocate, using high-pitched sounds to navigate and locate prey in the water.

Narwhal whales are another species of toothed whale that inhabit the Arctic region. They’re best known for their long, spiraled tusks, which can grow up to 9 feet long in males. While the exact purpose of the tusks is still unknown, scientists believe they may be used for communication or as a weapon in battles with other males. Narwhal whales feed mainly on fish and squid. They are social animals and often travel in groups called pods.

Bowhead whales are the largest whale species found in the Arctic region, with some individuals reaching lengths of over 60 feet. They’re known for their distinctive bow-shaped skull, which helps them break through thick ice to breathe. Bowhead whales feed on krill and other small organisms and are known for their longevity, with some individuals living up to 200 years.

The best time to see whales in the Arctic is in the summer, when they migrate to the shallow waters of the Arctic to feed. While different species prefer different regions, you’re sure to encounter whales on your Arctic cruise.

Orcas (aka Killer whales)

Orca killer whale breaching

Orcas are not technically whales: they are actually the largest members of the dolphin family. Their size and impressive hunting techniques have earned them a place among the most iconic creatures of the Arctic.

Orcas are highly social animals and live in pods that can number up to 40 individuals. They hunt fish, squid, and other marine mammals such as seals and even larger whales. In the Arctic, orcas are known for their unique hunting strategies, which often involve driving schools of fish or groups of marine mammals into shallow waters.

The best time to see orcas in the Arctic is in the summer months, when they migrate north in search of food. They can often be spotted in areas with high concentrations of marine mammals, such as walrus and seal colonies. Svalbard, Norway, is one of the best places to see orcas in the Arctic.


Arctic ringed seal, breaded seal, and harp seal

Several species of seals can be found in the Arctic. These animals are well adapted to life in the water, with streamlined bodies and flippers for swimming. They are also important prey for many Arctic predators, including polar bears and orcas.

Ringed seals are the most common seal species found in the Arctic, and are known for their distinctive ring-shaped markings on their fur. They feed on a variety of prey, including fish and crustaceans, and are an important food source for many Arctic communities.

Bearded seals are slightly larger than ringed seals and are named for their long, bristly whiskers. They feed on clams and other bottom-dwelling creatures, and are known for their loud vocalizations.

Harp seals are known for their distinctive white fur and black markings, which change as they age. They feed on a variety of prey, including fish and krill, and are often hunted for their pelts.

Spoilt for choice

While the Arctic can be a challenging destination to reach, the rewards of witnessing these incredible animals in their natural habitat are well worth the effort. Whether you're a seasoned wildlife enthusiast or simply looking for a new and unique adventure, the Arctic is sure to leave a lasting impression and inspire a sense of wonder and awe at the incredible diversity of life on our planet.

Have we convinced you yet? Peruse our most popular Arctic cruises, or speak to a Destination Expert about putting together a tailor-made wildlife odyssey for you and your family.

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