Arctic wildlife viewing brings a host of pleasures

At WILDFOOT we take pride in our ability to offer you personalised, one-of-a-kind adventures throughout some of the world’s remotest parts of the world. Our knowledgeable team members combine their passion for adventure with first-hand experience of these regions, which means we can guarantee a fully bespoke service. Interested in visiting the world’s most northern area? A few of us have been lucky enough to explore Svalbard extensively so even if you’re a veteran traveller of the icy continent, we will be able to give you the latest scoop on all the best sites for polar bear spotting and glacier walking. 

Speaking of polar bears, nothing really compares to Arctic wildlife holidays, which is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some of the most incredible (and rare) creatures and habitats on our planet. Must-see locations include the North Pole and Alaska, the latter of which is truly an animal lover’s dream. Our team members have visited both destinations many times, which means whether you’re looking for whale watching, sea kayaking or some top-notch bird watching, we’re sure to be able to help you have an adventure of a lifetime.

As much as we would like to create a definitive list of the highlights, the truth is that it would be extremely difficult to pick one single itinerary. Such is the astonishing breadth and depth of animal life in this most spectacular and remote part of the world that none of us could agree on what to include and what to exclude!

What we can do, however, is give a bit of an insight into the kinds of species that you may encounter when you take advantage of any of our packages.

From herbivores like the lemming, caribou, muskox and native hare, to predators such as the mighty polar bear, ice fox, and wolf plus a wealth of other land and marine animals, there are so many species here to stimulate the first-time visitor as well as the most seasoned tundra veterans.

All Manner of Birds

Where could we start with any discussion of the birds that make this frozen world their habitat? Any complete list would also be a seriously long one, although if there is a particular species that you would like to see, we can advise you on the best season and location. 

Nonetheless, those embarking on one of these trips may see any bird from the ivory gull, little auk, Black Guillemot and Barn Swallow to the Long-tailed Duck, sea eagles and skuas.

Alongside the rich variety of birdlife that this region can offer, those who venture into the Russian Far East coastal area are able to spot rare species such as the Steller’s sea eagle, gyrfalcon and spoon-billed sandpiper.

Birds in Flight

The Most Common Seabird Families

In our opinion, this destination has some of the best birdwatching opportunities in the world. So even if you’re an amateur twitcher, you’re likely to fall in love with the beauty and variety of the birds in the area. It’s helpful to be familiar with what you might see on your travels, so here’s our handy spotlight on the different seabird families.

Laridae: gulls

Let’s start with the one that you’re probably familiar with: the gull. Common species that you’ll find are the kittiwake, Ross’s gull, the ivory gull and Sabine’s gull. You can tell the adults and youngsters apart by their colouring; adults will have white heads and bodies, while the tops of their wings are darker and babies will be browner.

Skuas : This is one of the most common inhabitants and you’re likely to spot a variety of skuas during your trip. We find these quite entertaining birds as they tend to be known as the pirates of bird groups – always bothering others and stealing the scraps.

Cormorants: These distinctive birds are one of the most elegant species you’ll see. When they’re not swimming for food, they’ll be perched on a rock with their wings spread out, drying their feathers – although we think it looks like a perfect pose for the camera.

Terns: These little guys are known as sea swallows. Firstly, due to their silhouette and secondly because they’re also migratory, flying all the way from the North Pole to the South Pole every year!

Procellaridae: fulmar, stormy petrel: In our opinion, these species are the most fascinating as they will spend almost all their life at sea, only coming back to land to reproduce. We also love these birds for their unique defence mechanism: spitting salt. Since they spend so much time at sea, they’ve developed the ability to desalinate seawater, which means the salt accumulated in their nostrils becomes a handy weapon to spit at any attackers.

Alcidae: razorbill, auk, puffin, guillemot:While we love the Procellariidae, who doesn’t love a puffin? We think they’re one of the most popular birds to spot, after the penguins of course. This family is amazing at swimming and fishing for food.

Eiders: Last but not least, we have the cute marine ducks that you’ll find along the coastline. Finding these guys on one of our Arctic wildlife holidays can be quite an impressive sight as they usually hang out in groups of around 100.

Get Up Close and Personal with Whales

Our wildlife expeditions are never just about bird spotting. They also offer the perfect excuse for a bit of whale watching – which, in our opinion, is a truly unique experience that can get you up close and personal with some of the most jaw-dropping marine species on earth.

Whether you are hoping to catch sight of a humpback whale, minke, a rare white beluga, an orca (killer whale) or even the largest mammal in the world, the majestic blue whale itself, you will have ample opportunity to do so when you travel with us..

A Classification Guide for Whale Spotters: The Big Three

While the previously mentioned species are truly incredible creatures to spot on your Arctic wildlife holidays, here’s a brief overview of three of our favourite big whale types that you’ll have the chance to see.

The Bowhead:They might not be the prettiest, but we think this is one of the most fascinating whales we’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Named for its huge triangular skull, the Bowhead’s existence is closely connected with the sea ice that covers the ocean. They use small breathing holes in the ice to get oxygen but if they need to come up for air, their strong skull is used as a battering ram. The ice is also an important source of food, releasing krill and other tasty snacks for the whale during the melt in the spring.

Fun Fact: Bowheads have the largest mouth in the world and they have the ability to lower their heart rate to survive in extremely cold waters, helping them live up to 200 years old!

The Narwhal: We think that the Narwhal is perhaps the most mesmerising creature in this part of the world, not only for its unicorn-like tusk but it’s incredibly rare to spot them. Scientists believe that their tusk is used to measure salt and oxygen levels in the water, helping them navigate the seas. However, it’s still a bit of a mystery. Narwhals can dive up to 1.5km 25 times a day in search of food.

Fun Fact: the tusk is actually a tooth and during medieval times they were highly prized as it was thought that they could cure all kinds of diseases.

The Beluga: Out of the three, the Beluga is probably our favourite due to its sociable nature and striking appearance. Known as the white whale due to its pale colour in adulthood, Belugas are toothed, medium-sized whales. They like to hang out in groups and are a chatty bunch, communicating with each other through a series of clicks, grunts, and whistles.

Fun Fact: Beluga whales moult! They have very thick skin, which is shed every summer.

Kayaking offers a tranquil stealth that allows you to get closer to nature

Walrus & Seals

The great walrus is one of the iconic creatures on the ice and if you’re visiting Svalbard, you’ll have great opportunities to witness them in all their blubbery, tusked glory. They’re one of our favourite animals to show our travellers, as their nearly 2,000 kilogram mass is truly impressive. They tend to congregate in large groups on sunny beaches so they’re pretty easy to spot. You’ll find the huge Pacific walrus in areas like Alaska and Russia. However, you can see their smaller relatives in Svalbard, and areas in Northern Canada. 

As well as the mighty beasts above, seals are frequently viewed on most of our Arctic wildlife holidays. There are many species to look out for so have your binoculars at the ready.

A seal In Antarctica

sea lions frolicking in the water

Harp Seal – These are probably the hardest to find, unfortunately, due to being hunted for their furs. However, the best time to look for them is in late February and early March. Their favourite breeding sites are in Newfoundland, Greenland and the White Sea so if they’re on your list of “must-sees”, let us know and we can fit these destinations into your package.

Ringed Seal – You’re guaranteed to come across these solitary animals on most trips to this region. They are the most common and spread out seals in this region, meaning you can find them throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Bearded Seal – As you can guess from the name, these seals are identified by their large whiskers. They’re also the largest seal species in this area weighing up to 450 kilograms. The best time to see these guys is between April and May when they tend to give birth on the ice floes.

Polar Bears

While all the creatures in this magical part of the world are incredible, a super special sighting on any of our Arctic wildlife holidays is the Polar Bear. These powerful mammals can be found roaming the ice of a variety of destinations: from the Alaskan wilderness to the cold waters of Norway. As the largest land carnivore – reaching 3 metres in height when standing on its hind legs – the Polar Bear features on everyone’s list of highlights. 

The best time to spot these bears is between May and November, and most of our tours for sighting will be run during this time. If you’re planning on travelling to Svalbard, we recommend visiting in the summer as it’s a perfect time for a polar bear tour.

a polar bear hunting on the arctic shoreline

polar bear encounter on an arctic wildlife cruise

Arctic Fox, Wolf & Hare

As well as the large figures of the ice, the white continent is home to many other animals that have adapted to live in this harsh climate. A few of our favourite smaller creatures to spot are the white fox, wolf and hare. 

The Fox – this is one of our favourite animals to spot. Each winter their grey fur transforms into snowy white so that they can blend in with their surroundings. Plus, they’re the only mammal native to Iceland, which is a great place to see them. However, you’ll find these foxes throughout the tundra and the best time to spot them is during the summer at night.

The Wolf – much smaller than their cousins, the grey wolves, these wild wolves are designed to hold as much heat as possible in their bodies. They will hunt in packs, often taking down caribou and muskox. The best places to see these predators are in parts of North America and Greenland, especially at dawn when they’ll be out for the hunt.

The Hare – these are hardy creatures for sure, surviving the harsh winters by eating woody plants and lichen. Similarly to the foxes, their fur changes from brown to a show white when they’re about four weeks old. The best time to see them is during the spring or early summer.

Reindeer & Caribou

These mammals are an incredibly important and ancient part of life in the Arctic, closely linking the land and people. For thousands of years, reindeer and caribou have been a central part of life for many cultures, providing a source of food, clothing, tools and even transport. Today, they are found both in the wild and herded by the local people in Sweden, Russia, Finland and Canada. Any of our Arctic wildlife holidays can include an opportunity to meet these beautiful and important creatures, just ask one of our team members.
Don’t be reduced to experiencing this incredible fauna and flora through your computer screen – let one of our team organise that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see all of these animals in astonishing flesh and blood.

Contact one of our friendly team members today and together we can start creating an adventure that you’ll never forget.

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At WILDFOOT, we offer you the chance to explore one of the most spectacular and unique places on the planet. With our first-hand experience and extensive knowledge, we are experts in adventure and cannot wait to help our customers plan a holiday of a lifetime.

polar bear encounter on an arctic wildlife cruise

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