The Svalbard wildlife are demanding, resistant and in an abundance. The opportunity to experience the Arctic wilderness on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard will be one to remember. Learn more about Svalbard reindeer, walrus and the polar bear!
Wildlife animals live in extreme conditions and must tolerate the cold and darkness
Welcome to wildlife heaven! The remote yet accessible islands of Svalbard are like nowhere else on Earth - halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and teeming with wildlife that have adapted to endure the extreme conditions, particularly the snow-laden, dark winters. Polar bears and walrus are just some of the species you may lay your eyes upon during an expedition with Hurtigruten.
The king of the ice – the Svalbard polar bear
Touted the King of the Arctic and rightly so. Within the Svalbard Archipelago there are about 3,000 polar bears – more than there are humans living there and probably one of the largest concentrations on Earth. Polar bears are solitude animals with no set colony or living area. They roam wherever they can expect to find food and only the pregnant females use denning areas during winter and only when they are expecting offspring. Learn more about the king of the ice – the polar bear!
Will we see polar bears on our expedition cruise to Svalbard?
During an expedition on your cruise to Svalbard, we wait patiently with baited breath and all eyes scouting through binoculars. A sense of anticipation lingers in the air as we cruise the high Arctic. Our chances of spotting the polar bear increase when the marine mammal is close to or even in water. When there’s drift ice, there’s a chance the polar bear uses this as a platform into the sea. In very rare occasions dead whales or walrus drift ashore to Svalbard’s beaches. These tend to attract all kinds of wildlife – including polar bears.
While there are no guarantees of spotting polar bears, we act as polar opportunists - our expeditions are dictated by the elements, we scurry to make landings in prime locations, and we strive to offer up-close encounters with wildlife. With our ‘polar bear radars’ turned on, it’s likely our heightened senses are more alert to observe other wildlife such as birds and other marine mammals.
Photo: Rinie van Meurs, Heike Konrad, Dr. Henry Bauer, Arnau Ferrer and Tori Hogan
Walrus on Svalbard
Since the protection of walrus in 1952 the Svalbard population has grown from being decimated down to only a few animals, to a strong population with several haul outs scattered around the whole archipelago.
Will we see a walrus on a cruise to Svalbard?
Spotting these dumpy mammals is best from the vessel when they are hauled out on ice flows or from shore, close to well-established haul outs. With an understanding of the walrus feeding method, it is possible to identify where possible haul outs may be. Walrus are shallow divers that feed on benthic fauna which hides in sediments on the bottom. To find these shellfish and molluscs they use their hyper-sensitive whiskers to locate then suck the food into their mouth using pressure.
Ideal habitats for walrus range from gently sloping beaches to larger shallow areas. Landing close to colonies here is an experience for all senses (in particular smell). Like all expeditions to remote destinations, there is no guarantee of observing walrus but we often see walrus on a cruise in Spitsbergen.
The Svalbard reindeer are a smaller subspecies, with shorter legs and a relatively small and rounded head. The reindeer change colour of the fur throughout the different seasons. During the summer the fur is darker with brown fur on top and light on the belly. In the winter the fur gets lighter in colour and is almost grey or yellow-white. The Svalbard reindeer are, as all the other animals on Svalbard , adapted to the cold and dark climate. When access to food is limited in winter their body are extremely well adapted to use its own reserves and their thick fur gives a tick insulation against the cold temperature and wind.
Is it possible to see the Svalbard reindeer on our cruise to Svalbard?
Svalbard reindeer often appears in small groups of 2 to 4 individuals, but in the winter the smaller groups tend to get together to keep warmth and eat on a good feeding grounds. Svalbard reindeer are located all around the Archipelago, mainly on the non-glaciated parts. On Nordenskiöld Land, Edgeøya and Barentsøya lives the largest densities of the animal. The reindeer can be curious and sometimes they can approach you to a distance of within ten meters.