Svalbard Wildlife: Pictures, Facts And Information

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Svalbard wildlife

For most people, Svalbard's wildlife is what makes he archipelago so special. Although Svalbard does not offer the most diverse species range, the wildlife that does inhabit the islands are generally abundant.

Only the toughest and most well-adapted species can survive on Svalbard all year-round. The cold climate, lack of food and sparse landscape make it a difficult environment for most.

Top of the food chain is the Polar bear, weighing in at around 450kg. However, people also visit Svalbard to see walrus, reindeer and a wide array of marine life that the archipelago is known for.

Because Svalbard is a large archipelago of islands, seeing each creature on the list is not generally possible because of breeding seasons, climate, rarity etc.

For the best chance to see as much wildlife as possible, we always recommend taking the Svalbard in-depth cruise. This gives you the best opportunity to spot different species.

To avoid disturbing wildlife, always follow the guidelines set out by AECO and your guides. 

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​Svalbard ​Wildife: ​Pictures Facts And Information

​Polar Bear

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Without doubt the most popular species in Svalbard. The polar bear roams the sea ice in search of seals and other prey, often swimming to reach their goal.

Svalbard is actually one of the world's strongholds for polar bears with over 3,000 inhabiting the archipelago. Males are often twice the size of females and can weigh up to 700kg when fed.

Because of their status as vulnerable, many people are more eager than ever to see the polar bear. With sea ice melting at an alarming rate, these beautiful creatures are facing a major crisis.

We would expect most Svalbard cruises to spot a polar bear or two. Obviously, the longer your cruise and the further you explore, the better chance you will have of seeing more.

The best cruise option the 'In-Depth' option which sails around much of the archipelago. The bears generally avoid human settlements and you would be extremely lucky to see one on a land based tour.

​​​Walrus

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​​​Because of their social behaviour, walrus tend to be one of the best creatures to watch in Svalbard. Since becoming a protected species in 1952, the population in Svalbard has increased steadily.

Males compete for dominance whilst the females congregate in huge numbers on shore or on icebergs. The walrus of Svalbard are actually smaller than their counterparts on the Pacific side of the Arctic Circle.

Many cruise goers soon realise what a joy walrus are to photograph and they play in the water and fight on the beach. Like polar bears, walrus can literally pop up anywhere throughout the archipelago.

For the best chance of seeing them, take an in-depth cruise or a longer Spitsbergen itinerary.

​​Arctic Fox

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​The Arctic fox has many names. White fox, Polar fox, or Snow fox are just some examples. Brown in summer and white in winter, they are difficult creatures to spot.

Svalbard has a thriving population of these beautiful foxes and you should keep your eyes peeled, particularly on shore lines near bird nesting sites.

You'll often see them stalking the shore line below cliff-nesting birds, in search of eggs and young prey.

The Arctic fox is one of the most well-adapted creatures in Svalbard and will only begin shivering if temperatures go below −70 °C (−94 °F)! Make sure to bring a pair of binoculars as these little creatures blend into the landscape fantastically.

​Reindeer

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​​​​​​​Largely thanks to Father Christmas, reindeer are now one of the most popular creatures in the Arctic.

Known as Caribou in North America, the reindeer on Svalbard are plentiful and you can spot some without even getting on a boat.

Short land-based tours around Longyearbyen will take you into the local hills where you will see the reindeer herds grazing.

In some Arctic settlements, reindeer are still used for transportation, meat, milk, antlers and hides. Reindeer can vary in size considerably and the females also have the ability to grow antlers.

The Svalbard population is actually a sub-species of reindeer found only in Svalbard. Characteristics include, shorter legs, thicker coat and smaller head.

​​​Seals

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Classically cute, seals are always a favourite of cruise goers in Svalbard. Quite relaxed creatures, seals are often not bothered by passing zodiacs and you can get quite close if you're lucky.

​There are three types of seal found in Svalbard; the ringed, harbour and bearded seal. Of the three, the harbour seal is by far the most common with an estimated 100,000 in Svalbard.

The largest is the bearded seal which can be seen around the inlets and fjords areas. The harbour seals are often seen in large numbers near Prins Karls Forland.

For the best chance of seeing all three species, you'll need to give yourself time and a good itinerary to explore.

The In-depth is always our recommendation. However, for shorter cruise around Spitsbergen you will still see some seals.

​​​Beluga Whale

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The beluga whale or 'white whale' is an incredibly interesting and inquisitive creature.

​Reaching up to 4.5 meters in length, the beluga whale is a toothed whale that travels in large packs. generally seen close to shore, the males and females actually travel in separate groups.

For the best chance of seeing beluga, travel in summer and look in front of glaciers where food is abundant. You should also keep your eyes peeled near dense pack ice.

Seeing these beautiful white creatures move through the blue waters is an absolute joy. Guaranteed sightings is not possible, but the long your cruise is, the better chance you will have, particularly around June and July. The Northwest Passage cruise is a good option. 

​​​​Narwhal

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​​​​One of the rarest creatures to spot, narwhals look completely different to any other whale.

​The most striking feature is the long tusk which can reach up to 3 meters in length! Weighing up to 1600kg, the narwhal is a toothed whale, but lacks a dorsal fin.

Very shy creatures, narwhal often get frightened by cruise ships and will not approach. This makes seeing them exceptionally difficult.

Normally seen at the ice edge, most narwhal sightings in Svalbard have come from the fjords of Nordaustlandet and in the strait of Hinlopenstretet. Like beluga, narwhal travel in sexually segregated groups. The Canadian Arctic is the real hotspot for these shy creatures.

​Other Whale Species

​​The rich waters around Svalbard attract huge amounts of marine life, including 15 species of whales.

​These include the minke whale, blue whale, orca, humpback whale, pilot whales, sperm whales, northern bottlenose whales, bowhead whales and fin whales.

Although each species is not spotted every year, most are. Blue whales are generally seen a few time each year, whilst humpbacks are a common occurrence, as are minkes and fin whales.

There is no set pattern regarding sightings an you can literally spot one at any time during your Svalbard cruise.

​Svalbard Seabirds

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​​For most people, seabirds will make up a majority of the wildlife spotted on a Svalbard cruise.

In the summer, birds migrate to the archipelago in their millions, nesting high up on the rocky cliffs. This is quite sight as thousands of birds fly above you, seeking out heir young and bringing food back to the nest.

Of all the birds species that inhabit Svalbard, the puffin or 'sea parrot' is generally the most popular. These charismatic birds are great to photograph and easily spotted with their bright orange feet and beaks.

Below is a full list of birds found in Svalbard:

  • Arctic tern
  • Atlantic puffin
  • Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis)
  • Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
  • Brent goose (Branta bernicla)
  • Brünnich’s guillemot (Uria lomvia)
  • Common eider (Somateria mollissima)
  • Common guillemot (Uria aalge)
  • Glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus)
  • Great skua
  • Grey phalarope
  • Ivory gulls
  • Little auk (Alle alle)
  • Northern fulmar
  • Pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)
  • Purple sandpiper (Calidris maritima)
  • Red-throated diver (Gavia stellata)
  • Snow bunting
  • Svalbard rock ptarmigan

​Svalbard Wildlife Video

​Below is a short video by telisha34 of their encounter with a polar bear. Enjoy!

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.

​FAQ

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

Thank you and happy travels!

​Expedition Cruise Team

Tags: best places to see Svalbard wildlife, wildlife spots Svalbard , where to see wildlife in Svalbard , best Svalbard 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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