Arctic Wildlife: Pictures, Facts And Information

Arctic wildlife

The Arctic wildlife​ is the main reason people take cruises to this part of the world. Whilst the landscape is superb, there is nothing that quite beats seeing a 450kg polar bear stalk the ice in search of prey.

Yet it's not just the polar bear that travellers come to see. The Arctic is actually home to a wide range of species that inhabit the ice fields and tundra. Seeing each creature in their natural habitat is an amazingly special sight and one that won't be forgotten.

Because the Arctic covers such a large territory, seeing all the creatures on the above list is impossible on a single cruise as many inhabit isolated and separate areas.

However, to give you the best chance of seeing the animals of your choice, we have listed each one below and where best to see them on your Arctic cruise.

In order to not disturb the wildlife, always follow the advice laid out by AECO and your guides. 

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​Arctic ​Wildife: ​Pictures Facts And Information

​Polar Bear


Without doubt the most iconic species of the Arctic landscape.

The polar bear roams the ice daily in search of food, often going days without anything.

One of the most sexually biomorphic species, the males can weigh up to 700kg, whilst the females generally weigh just half that.

Because of the loss of sea ice due to global warming, the polar bear is now classed as a vulnerable species and many people believe this may become critical.

Depending on where you cruise, you should have an excellent chance of seeing a polar bear. With over 3,000 polar bears, Svalbard is probably the best cruise location to spot polar bears and, on average, we would expect to see a few bears per a 10 day cruise at least. Any less and you would be very unlucky.

Greenland (particularly around Kangerlussuaq) and Wrangel Island are also polar bear hot spots. For land based tours, you should head to Churchill or take a day boat trip around Kaktovic, Alaska.

​​Brown Bear


​Although one might not imagine that brown bears inhabit the Arctic region, there are actually certain pockets where they can still be spotted. 

​In fact, the brown bear has the widest distribution of any bear species in the world.

The best place to spot these bears in the Arctic is along the East Siberian coast around Kamchatka. Cruises that explore the Russian far east will give you the best chance of this.

Alternatively, almost all Alaska cruises will offer the chance to see brown bears or 'Grizzlies' as they're known there. These sighting are far more common and you'll probably get much closer.



​​Hugely social, walrus congregate in large numbers and can weigh up to 2000kg! Much like elephant seals, the walrus males compete for dominance, using their sharp tusks as weapons.

Walrus staple diet include clams, mussels and other bottom dwelling organisms that they locate through their whiskers. The walrus are without doubt one of the most entertaining Arctic species to watch and photograph.

Greenland and Svalbard itineraries are excellent choices if you want to see walrus. Cruises such as Around Spitsbergen and Exploration of Svalbard explore these areas in depth and have an excellent chance to see walrus both on pack ice and hauled out on beaches to warm up in the 24-hour summer sunshine.

If you want to see the world’s largest walruses, you need to take a cruise to the Pacific side of the Arctic such as Alaska or, in particular, the Russian Far East. Bering Straight cruises are ideal for this.

​Musk Ox

​​​Probably one of the most epic Arctic creatures, the musk oxen are stoic creatures that endure severe temperatures and wind on the Arctic tundra.

Their fur is double-layered for insulation against the cold and the musk ox can weigh up to 500kg. The massive creatures huddle together in the cold and can often appear from a distance simply like rock formations.

If you want to see musk ox on your cruise then the best place is East Greenland or the Canadian Arctic. Most cruises that explore this area will spot musk ox and you'll be able to take shore landings to get some nice shots.

You can also spot these creatures in Eastern Siberia on the Far East Russia cruise. For land based tours you are best to head to Alaska where there is larger numbers.

​​Arctic Fox


​​​​The Arctic fox, or white fox, polar fox, or snow fox as it is often called, is a small fox native to most of the Arctic Circle region.

​Brown in summer and white in winter, these creatures blend in to the environment with ease, allowing them to hunt small rodents such as lemmings and voles. 

Because the Arctic fox is so well adapted to the cold, it will only start shivering when temperatures drop below −70 °C (−94 °F)!

Arctic foxes are a rare sight as they are an elusive and difficult creature to spot. However, the good news is that you have a chance of seeing one on almost any Arctic cruise you decide to take.

The Arctic fox is found all the way from Iceland and Greenland to Eastern Siberia and can pop up at any moment during one of your shore landings.

​​Arctic Hare


​​​​​​Extremely fast and agile, the Arctic hare can reach speeds above 40mph, making them one of the quickest land animals in the region.

Their short ears are fairly characteristic and their bright white fur makes them stand out beautifully agains the green foliage of the tundra. In summer their coat turns a lovely blue-grey colour.

Although not frequently spotted, the Arctic hare can be seen in Northern Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, including areas such as Ellesmere Island, and further south in Labrador and Newfoundland.

For the best chance to see an Arctic hare on your cruise, look at itineraries such as the High Arctic or Baffin Island.

​​Arctic Wolf


​​​​​​​A sub-species of the grey wolf, the Arctic wolf is only found in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, from Melville Island to Ellesmere Island.

Hunting in herds, Arctic wolves often take down large musk ox. The also hunt Arctic hares and any other creatures they can catch.

Although not shy of humans, the Arctic wolf is rarely seen by cruise goers. Greenland also contains another sub-species of grey wolf which can be seen on occasion as well.

The best cruises to see the Arctic wolf are ones that explore the Canadian arctic archipelago of Labrador, Newfoundland, Ellesmere and Greenland. Sightings are rare though and you should not book a cruise solely for this reason.


​​​​​​​​Also known as Caribou in North America, the reindeer is a classic Arctic creature, largely thanks to Father Christmas!

Reindeer population can vary considerably in size and colour and both males and females have the ability to grow horns. Some smaller settlements in the Arctic still herd reindeer for for meat, milk, hides, antlers and transportation,

The best place to see reindeer is along the Norwegian coast, particularly at North Cape Plateau, or Iceland, Svalbard and East Siberia.

Most Arctic cruises will give you the chance to spot some reindeer and it's well worth it as their large horns and beautiful coats are a lovely sight.


arctic wildlife seals

​One of the most charismatic of Arctic creatures, seals are always a joy to watch as they sun bathe on beaches and ice floats.

There are six seal species that live in the Arctic, these include harp, hooded, ringed, spotted, bearded and ribbon.

Whilst the sea ice effects all the seals species of the Arctic, the harp, beard and ringed species are most tightly linked to the changes of the ice.

Out of all the Arctic seals, the Harp seal is the most commonly seen and can be found on the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.

However, for most Arctic cruises, the most popular spot to see them is on the Eastern coast of Greenland where many Arctic cruises visit during a Svalbard itinerary.

​​​Beluga Whale

arctic wildlife beluga

​​The beluga whale or 'white whale' as it is sometimes known, is an interesting whale species native to the Arctic seas.

It is well adapted to life in the Arctic with anatomical and physiological characteristics that differentiate it from other whales. These include its all-white colour and the lack of dorsal fin.

Seeing the bright white whale move through the blue waters is one of the nest sights on offer in the Arctic and one that should not be missed if possible. However, like most whales, predicting where they will be is no easy task.

The beluga can be spotted throughout the Arctic Ocean, however, it is most commonly seen around Greenland and Svalbard.

Hudson Bay is also a hotspot for beluga with 60,000 of the creatures entering the large bay during summer.


arctic wildlife narwal

​​​Found primarily in the cold waters around Canada, Greenland and Russia, the narwhal is one of the most well-adapted Arctic sea cretures there is.

​During winter it feeds upon flatfish deep beneath the pack ice. During the warmer months narwhal feed on cod, Greenland halibut and other types of fish.

Although narwhals can dive very deep and hold their breath for a considerable amount of time, narwhals often die when the sea ice freezes over. Their long tusks are truly spectacular and just glimpsing these beautiful animals is a rare treat.

If you want to see narwhal, Greenland and high Arctic cruises around Canada will offer you the best chance. The Northwest Passage is a great option. 

We recommend taking an in depth cruise around Svalbard and Greenland. This will give you a great chance at seeing these elusive creatures in their natural habitat.

​​​​Orca (Killer Whale)

arctic wildlife orca

​The orca or 'killer whale' is one of the most recognized and charismatic species on our planet, featuring in most major wildlife docuemntaries. 

Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family and are highly social creatures composed of matrilineal family groups.

Orca are known for their varied hunting tactics that range from creating waves over pack ice to riding waves ashore to take seal pups.

Although not common in the Arctic region during winter, the waters around Alaska, Iceland and West Canada are hotspots for these beautiful creatures.

Whilst Alaska is home to 18 resident pods of killer whales​, Orcas are also common to the coastal fjords of western Iceland where they devour a wealth of herring.

​Greenland Shark


​​Huge creatures, the Greenland shark can grow up to 5 meters in length and inhabit the deep and cold waters around Greenland, Iceland, Canada and Norway.

​Recently they have made headlines as being the longest living vertebrates on earth. Scientists have discovered that some Greenland sharks are over 400 years old!

Sadly for people wanting to see these incredible creatures, you may not be in luck. They are incredibly rare and few people ever actually see one.

Most scientists have to rely on them being caught in fishing nets and cruises lines have never actually seen one. For the best chance though, head to Greenland.

​Arctic Seabirds


​There are 64 species of seabird that breed in the Arctic. Among the more notable include puffins, terns, murre, guillemot, cormorants, little auks and fulmars.

On most Arctic cruises you can expect to see a wide array of seabirds and, if you travel at the right time, millions of nesting seabirds. Some may even land on your ship!

Out of all the Arctic cruise destinations, Iceland is probably the best for seabird lovers, as is Bear Island at the southern tip of the Svalbard archipelago.

Both places you'll be able to see more seabirds than your mind can take in, so get your camera ready.

​Arctic Wildlife Video

​Below is a short video by National Geographic detailing several polar bear encounters!

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote from our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.


If you have any queries or questions regarding the best places to see Arctic wildlife, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Thank you and happy travels!

​Expedition CruiseTeam

Tags: best places to see Arctic wildlife, wildlife spots Arctic, where to see wildlife in the Arctic, best Arctic cruises for wildlife

About the Author Burnham Arlidge

Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has cruised to some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet.

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