Elusive Northern Wildlife: What You May See on an Arctic Cruise

Posted by on October 20th, 2023

The Arctic, situated at Earth’s polar north, is a land of vast ice and snow. An Arctic cruise will take you through drifting pack ice to see massive frozen walls and calving glaciers. It will also give you an opportunity to spot unique and magnificent wildlife. You likely won’t see teeming animal throngs the way you may in Antarctica or the Galapagos Islands – the wildlife of the Arctic tends to be more elusive, which makes each sighting all the more special. Here are a few of the animals I saw on my own recent Arctic cruise on the lovely Sylvia Earle:

Polar Bears: The Monarchs of the North
Polar bears are one of the primary attractions for Arctic travelers. These majestic creatures are adapted perfectly to their icy habitat, and seeing them in the wild is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your cruise team will always be on the lookout for these behemoths, and ready to call passengers quickly to see them from the side of the ship or up close from a zodiac boat. One of our eagle-eyed crew spotted the female pictured above while we were preparing to head to shore, and quickly changed our plans to get passengers into the zodiac boats for a closer look.

Arctic Foxes: Survivors of the Cold
Often seen sneaking along behind the mighty polar bears, Arctic foxes are expertly adapted to life in the North. Despite their diminutive size – typically weighing 6-10 pounds, smaller than the average housecat – the Arctic fox can survive in apparent comfort at temperatures as low as negative 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Too small and quick to be of interest to the polar bears, who focus their hunting efforts on larger, fattier prey, these wily little foxes scavenge food and can often be seen slipping up to a bear’s recent kill to pick at the leftovers. They are adorably fluffy, impressively cunning, and an evolutionary wonder of adaptability. The Arctic fox was by far my favorite of our animal sightings.

Whales: Giants of the Sea
Arctic waters are a playground for whales, and you might encounter several species during your cruise. Beluga whales, with their distinctive white color, are a common sight. You may also spot humpback and bowhead whales breaching the surface, providing fantastic photo opportunities. We were lucky to have multiple whale sightings throughout our cruise, including Beluga, minke, fin whales, and humpback.

Seabirds: The Sky’s the Limit
The Arctic deserves a place on any birdwatcher’s travel list. Look up, and you’ll see puffins, guillemots, and kittiwakes soaring and diving as they fish in the frigid waters. Along the coasts, these birds nest in the thousands, creating a spectacle of sight and sound.

Walruses: A True Arctic Icon
Walruses, with their unmistakable tusks and blubbery bodies, are another fascinating species to spot on your cruise. You might find them hauled out on sea ice or rocky shores, basking in the sun. Their roars and grunts make for a memorable auditory experience. If you encounter a haul-out (large group) of walruses and get near it in your zodiac boat, you’ll be treated to a rather pungent olfactory experience as well!

Seals: A Common Sight
Seals are a vital part of the Arctic ecosystem, and you’re likely to see several species during your voyage. Ringed seals, bearded seals, and harp seals can be seen resting on ice floes or diving beneath the waves in search of prey. They are curious by nature: On more than one occasion, a seal took interest in our zodiac as we cruised around during excursions, and followed along behind us, popping up like a curious puppy to get a closer look at us.

Reindeer: Terrestrial Arctic Natives
An integral part of the Arctic’s rich tapestry, these hardy creatures are often found grazing on the tundra. We spotted a number of them during zodiac cruises along the shore, and encountered a few unconcerned specimen during our shore walks.

An Arctic cruise is a truly remarkable adventure, and it can provide a front-row seat to some of nature’s most impressive spectacles. The wild wonders of the Arctic are a testament to the resilience and adaptability of its wildlife. As you sail through this otherworldly landscape, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate and interconnected web of life that thrives in this harsh environment. So, pack your warmest gear – and your binoculars! – and embark on an Arctic cruise to search for the breathtaking wildlife that calls the North its home.

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