Wildlife Wonders on an Arctic Trip

While the number of species found in the Arctic is not nearly so numerous as in more temperate and tropical zones, the area is home to a number of unique and exotic animals. When on an Arctic trip, one may see birds such as the albatross, with its six-foot wingspan, or the tufted puffin, a pigeon-sized water bird whose orange beak and yellow tufts of feathers along the head are striking against its inky black body. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, snowy owls, and the chicken-like ptarmigans make their homes in the tundra, along with geese, swans, gulls, loons, and ducks.

Mammals that live in the tundra include the arctic fox, which has a dark coat in the summer and a white coat in the winter, as do the tiny lemmings that live on plants and berries. Large mammals include the musk ox, whose abundant wool is used to make scarves and other cold-weather clothing. Large herds of caribou and reindeer can also be seen during an Arctic trip, though reindeer, which were domesticated about 2,000 years ago, are more popular in northern Asia and Europe, as native peoples in Alaska and Canada would rather hunt caribou than herd reindeer. The most well known Arctic animal, however, may be the polar bear, which lives year-round in the tundra. Their white coats blend invisibly into the ice and snow, effectively hiding them from their prey—primarily seals and fish.

Many sea mammals have adapted to the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean and are of particular interest to people enjoying an Arctic cruise. Plump white beluga whales swim and sing, making such a wide variety of sounds that they have earned the nickname “sea canary.” Narwhals, distinctive because of their one long horn, also live in the northern seas. Black and white orcas can be seen swimming in the Arctic as well, their six-foot-tall dorsal fins slicing through the waves. Bowhead and hump-backed whales swim the waters, along with playful sea otters, sleek seals—including the bearded, harbor, hooded, ringed, and harp seals—and enormous, tusked walruses.