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The Wild-side of a Svalbard Cruise

Both novice and advanced birdwatchers will find much to enjoy during their Svalbard cruise. Thirty species of seabirds make Svalbard their breeding grounds, including black guillemots, puffins, little auks, fulmars, and kittiwakes. The arctic tern, skua, and ivory gull can also be seen throughout the archipelago. The snow bunting and the wheatear are the only two songbirds to breed in the area, and Svalbard’s only resident species is the Svalbard ptarmigan.

Mammals on the islands range from tiny creatures to large, including the Svalbard field mouse, the Arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer, and the polar bear. The latter are so common that residents of Svalbard know to take their rifles for protection when they venture outside the inhabited areas. However, polar bears are protected by the law, which forbids anyone to harm or disturb them. During a trip to Svalbard one can also find several species of seal on the land and in the surrounding waters, from the bearded and ringed seals to the harbour and harp seals.

The seas around Svalbard are filled with a variety of whales, and a cruise offers plenty of viewing opportunities. Most commonly seen is the vocal and social white beluga, whose population is estimated in the thousands. The white-beaked dolphin and the minke whale are also fairly common. Greenland whales used to be found in abundance, but have been driven nearly to extinction. The Northern Right (or Bowhead) whale is also endangered, with a population of only a few hundred. Several other whales that are rare but may still be seen are the handsome black-and-white orca, the long-horned narwhal, the bottlenose dolphin, the sperm whale, the humpback whale, and the fin and blue whales. At a massive 65-100 feet long, the blue whale is the largest animal on the planet, and an awesome sight to see, whether from land or ship.

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