North Pole Animals

A Guide To The Wildlife Of The North Pole

From Polar bears roaming their icy natural habitat in search of food to walruses hauling out on the large ice floes, the North Pole region is home to some of the world's most resilient animals.

North Pole Animals: A Guide

In this guide, we look at all the North Pole animals that can be sighted in the High Arctic region.

Taking a North Pole Cruise is an endeavour that many few will ever undertake in their lifetime. Reaching the most northerly point on Earth is a dream for many, but those who make it a reality are rewarded with a journey through one of the most pristine places on Earth.

Whilst wildlife is seldom spotted on the North Pole, most species are witnessed on the cruise through the pack ice to reach it. Along with reaching 90 degrees north, another huge attraction of a voyage to the North Pole is the animals that can be sighted en route.

Which Animals live in the North Pole region?

Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)

  • Description: The iconic symbol of the Arctic, polar bears are well-adapted to the icy environment with their thick fur and layers of blubber.
  • Habitat: Sea ice and coastal areas, where they hunt seals.
  • Behaviour: Powerful swimmers and polar bears spend much of their time on ice floes, patiently waiting for seals to surface.

For the optimal chance of encountering polar bears, we recommend any North Pole Cruise departing or arriving in Svalbard. Our best advice to see polar bears is to spend time out on deck searching the endless pack of ice with binoculars. Whilst polar bears are considered dangerous to humans on land, it is perfectly safe to view them from the ship's deck or in a Zodiac with highly trained guides.

Arctic Foxes (Vulpes lagopus)

  • Description: Small and agile, Arctic foxes have fur that changes colour with the seasons, providing excellent camouflage.
  • Habitat: Tundra regions, where they feed on small mammals, birds, and scavenged carrion.
  • Behaviour: Known for their intelligence and adaptability, they often follow polar bears to scavenge leftovers.

You will unlikely see Arctic foxes on the pack ice between the land and the North Pole. For the best chances of seeing Arctic foxes, we recommend a cruise with landings on Svalbard, where they can often be sighted at the foot of bird cliffs.

Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus)

  • Description: Recognizable by their long tusks and wrinkled appearance, walruses are social mammals found resting on the sea ice or hauled out in colonies on beaches.
  • Habitat: Coastal areas and ice floes, feeding on clams and benthic invertebrates.
  • Behaviour: Known for vocalizations and impressive haul-out gatherings where they rest and socialize.

Walruses are often seen on a North Pole Cruise resting on large ice floes. In Svalbard, groups of walruses are frequently seen hauled out on the beaches, where they often jostle for space.

North Pole Cruises

Geographic North Pole PONANT
Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen - Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen
Jul 7 - Jul 22 2025
15 Nights

Price from per person

£31,170
Trans Arctic Icebreaker cruise to the North Pole
Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen - Nome, Alaska
Sep 5 - Sep 25 2025
20 Nights

Price from per person

£38,570
Geographic North Pole PONANT
Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen - Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen
Aug 21 - Sep 5 2025
15 Nights

Price from per person

£31,170

Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas)

  • Description: Distinctive for their white colouring, beluga whales are known as "sea canaries" for their vocalizations.
  • Habitat: Arctic and subarctic waters, with populations seen in bays, estuaries, and open ocean.
  • Behaviour: Social and curious, belugas often travel in small pods, and their presence adds a delightful dimension to Arctic waters.

Whilst sightings are infrequent, Belugas can be spotted swimming in pods among the ice or close to glacier fronts in Svalbard.

Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

  • Description: Sleek and streamlined, minke whales are the smallest baleen whales, with a dark colouration on their backs.
  • Habitat: Open Arctic waters, where they feed on krill and small fish.
  • Behaviour: Known for their acrobatic displays, minkewhales may breach and slap their tails on the water's surface.

Minke whales are sighted swimming in open waters and along the ice edge during the summer months.

Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Description: Recognizable by their long pectoral fins and complex vocalizations, humpback whales are large baleen whales.
  • Habitat: Arctic and subarctic seas, where they migrate to feed on krill and small fish.
  • Behaviour: Humpbacks are a majestic sight in the Arctic waters and are known for breaching and slapping the water with their fins.

Humpback whales are often spotted from the deck in open Arctic waters.

Narwhals (Monodon monoceros)

  • Description: Known for their long, spiral tusks, narwhals are medium-sized toothed whales with a mottled grey colouring.
  • Habitat: Arctic waters, particularly around ice edges and in deep fjords.
  • Behaviour: Elusive and social, narwhals are known for their unique tusk displays and can be spotted near sea ice.

One of the Arctic's most mysterious creatures, Narwhals, are infrequently seen by humans as they swim between open leads in the sea ice. For the best chance of seeing Narwhals, we recommend a North Pole cruise that also visits Scoresby Sund in East Greenland.

Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis)

  • Description: Small, sparrow-sized birds with white plumage snow buntings are well-adapted to the Arctic tundra.
  • Habitat: Tundra and open landscapes, where they forage for seeds and insects.
  • Behaviour: Seasonal migrant's snow buntings exhibit distinctive white plumage during breeding.

Snow Buntings have been sighted as far north as the North Pole itself. We recommend a good pair of binoculars and any of our North Pole Cruises for the best chance of viewing Snow Buntings.

Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea)

  • Description: Medium-sized seabirds with a sleek design, Arctic terns have white plumage and a black cap on their heads.
  • Habitat: Coastal areas, cliffs, and open waters where they feed on small fish.
  • Behaviour: Long-distance migrants Arctic terns have impressive annual migrations between the Arctic and Antarctic.

Arctic Terns are common throughout the Arctic and can often be seen flying close to the ship.

Guillemots (Various species)

  • Description: Guillemots are seabirds with distinctive black and white plumage, often nest on cliffs.
  • Habitat: Coastal cliffs and rocky shores where they breed and dive for fish.
  • Behaviour: Agile divers guillemots are known for their synchronized dives searching for prey.

For optimal sightings, we recommend a cruise visiting Svalbard. The Alkefjellet bird cliffs are home to over 60,000 nesting pairs of Br√ľnnich's guillemots. From the Zodiacs, getting up close and encountering this impressive sight is possible.

Arctic Hares (Lepus arcticus)

  • Description: Large hares with white fur in winter, blending with the snow, and a grey-brown coat in summer.
  • Habitat: Tundra and rocky areas, where they graze on grasses, mosses, and other vegetation.
  • Behaviour: Agile and speedy, Arctic hares evade predators in the challenging Arctic landscape.

Arctic Hares are more likely to be sighted on land than on sea ice. We recommend a cruise with landings in Greenland or Svalbard for the best chance of seeing Arctic hares.

Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis)

  • Description: Medium-sized seabirds with a distinct tube-like structure on their bills, northern fulmars have white and grey plumage.
  • Habitat: Open Arctic waters, where they feed on fish and zooplankton.
  • Behaviour: Known for their soaring flights, northern fulmars are adept at covering vast distances over the open sea.

Keep your eyes on deck as Northern Fulmars fly alongside, swooping and soaring over the ship.

Bearded Seals (Erignathus barbatus)

  • Description: Named for their distinctive long whiskers, bearded seals have a robust body and a mottled greyish-brown coat.
  • Habitat: Arctic waters, particularly near pack ice, where they feed on a variety of prey, including fish and invertebrates.
  • Behaviour: Often found resting on ice floes, bearded seals are known for their vocalizations and are a captivating addition to Arctic marine life.

Bearded seals are often spotted resting on the pack ice. An excellent way to spot them is from the ship's deck as it crushes through the pack ice.

Puffins (Fratercula species)

  • Description: Small, charismatic seabirds with distinctive colourful beaks puffins are expert fliers and swimmers.
  • Habitat: Coastal cliffs and islands, where they nest in burrows and feed on fish.
  • Behaviour: Agile in flight and underwater, puffins add a playful and charming presence to the Arctic birdlife.

Puffins can be sighted throughout the Arctic. Often, they can be seen bobbing past the ship in open waters in small groups.

Musk Oxen (Ovibos moschatus)

  • Description: Large, shaggy-haired mammals like musk oxen are well-adapted to the Arctic tundra.
  • Habitat: Tundra regions, where they graze on grasses, mosses, and lichens.
  • Behaviour: In social animals, musk oxen form protective circles around their young and use their powerful horns for defence.

Musk Oxen reside in East Greenland rather than on the sea ice. For the best chance of seeing Musk Oxen, we recommend a North Pole Cruise that visits East Greenland.

Kittiwakes (Rissa species)

  • Description: Medium-sized gulls with white plumage and distinctive "kittiwake" calls.
  • Habitat: Coastal cliffs and rocky ledges, where they nest and feed on fish.
  • Behaviour: Social birds are often seen in large colonies, and kittiwakes are skilled flyers and foragers.

Kittiwakes soar through the Arctic skies. They can often be seen from the ship before it enters the heavy pack ice.

Svalbard Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus)

  • Description: A subspecies of reindeer, Svalbard reindeer are more miniature with a compact build and thick fur.
  • Habitat: Arctic tundra and coastal areas, where they graze on lichens, mosses, and grasses.
  • Behaviour: Well-adapted to the harsh Arctic climate, Svalbard reindeer undertake seasonal migrations and have specialized hooves for digging through snow.

As the name suggests, Svalbard reindeer are only seen in Svalbard. They are sighted frequently on land and sometimes in the capital, Longyearbyen. We recommend a route with landings in Svalbard for the only chance to see them.

Hooded Seals (Cystophora cristata)

Description: Recognized by the inflatable hood-like sac on males, hooded seals have a bluish-grey coat and distinctive markings.
Habitat: Arctic and subarctic waters, where they haul out on ice to give birth and nurse their pups.
Behaviour: Known for their unique vocalizations and displays, hooded seals are a remarkable addition to Arctic marine mammal sightings.

A favourite meal for polar bears, hooded seals can be seen resting on large ice floes.

Our Top Tips For Viewing Animals on A North Pole Cruise

Spotting wildlife on a cruise to the North Pole can be a thrilling and rewarding experience. Here are some top tips to enhance your chances of encountering the diverse and fascinating Arctic wildlife:

Research and Learn

Before you depart, please familiarize yourself with the specific wildlife species found in the Arctic region, including their habitats and behaviours. This knowledge will help you identify and appreciate the animals you encounter.

Choose the Right Time and Route

Opt for cruises that align with peak wildlife activity periods, typically during the Arctic summer. Research the routes known for wildlife sightings, including areas with sea ice concentrations and rich marine life. Our Travel Experience Team is always here to assist you with any questions.

Learn From Experienced Guides

All our North Pole Cruises have knowledgeable and experienced expedition leaders and guides. Their expertise in North Pole animals and ecosystems can significantly enhance your wildlife spotting experience.

Use Binoculars and Cameras

Bring a good pair of binoculars to examine distant wildlife closely. Additionally, have a camera with a zoom lens ready to capture those unforgettable moments. We recommend a telephoto lens over 600mm for polar bears and walruses. Consider investing in a camera with good low-light performance for Arctic conditions.

Stay Patient and Observant

Wildlife sightings in the Arctic can be unpredictable. Be patient and keep a keen eye on the surroundings. Scan the horizon, ice floes, and open water for signs of movement or specific shapes that may indicate animals.

Visit Wildlife Hotspots

Research and ask about known wildlife hotspots along your cruise route. These could include areas with high concentrations of seals, walruses, or bird colonies. Expedition leaders often have valuable insights into the best locations.

Be Mindful of Wildlife Behavior

Learn about the behaviour of the animals you hope to see. Understanding their habits can help you anticipate their movements and increase your chances of spotting them. For example, watch for birds circling an area, as it might indicate the presence of marine mammals.

Take Advantage of 24-Hour Daylight

The Arctic experiences continuous daylight during the summer months. Use this to your advantage by maximizing your time on deck, even during the late evening or early morning hours when wildlife may be more active.

Keep Warm

Be prepared for the cold Arctic conditions with proper clothing. Dress in layers, wear waterproof gear and remember gloves and a hat. Staying comfortable will allow you to spend more time outdoors, increasing your chances of wildlife sightings.

Participate in Guided Shore Excursions

All our cruises include shore excursions, so take Advantage of guided walks led by experts. These excursions may offer opportunities to see wildlife up close and explore specific habitats.

Respect Wildlife and Regulations

Adhere to responsible wildlife viewing practices and follow any regulations. Maintain a safe distance from animals and avoid disturbing their natural behaviour. The guide team will provide advice and ensure you know wildlife-watching rules.

Engage with Onboard Experts

Attend lectures and talks given by onboard naturalists and wildlife experts. They can provide valuable insights into the behaviour and ecology of North Pole wildlife, enhancing your appreciation of the creatures you encounter.

Remember, wildlife encounters are unpredictable, and patience is vital. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery and the unique Arctic environment, and consider every wildlife sighting a special and rare moment.

North Pole Animals FAQ

No Polar Bears have ever been sighted on the geographical North Pole itself. The furthest north a polar bear has ever been sighted was about 13 miles from the North Pole on an icebreaker (although polar bear footprints have been sighted closer).
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are not exclusive residents of the North Pole itself. While associated with the Arctic region, polar bears are found throughout the Arctic Circle, including areas surrounding the North Pole. The polar bear’s range includes the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas, and the coastal regions of Arctic islands and continental landmasses.

Polar bears primarily inhabit sea ice, hunting for seals and other marine mammals. They are often found along the coastlines, especially where sea ice meets open water, as this is a productive hunting ground. During periods of ice melt in the summer, polar bears may come ashore on islands or coastal areas.

The distribution of polar bears is influenced by the availability of sea ice and their prey. They have been observed in regions such as the Beaufort Sea, the Chukchi Sea, the Barents Sea, and other Arctic habitats, but they do not have a fixed residence on the North Pole itself, as the North Pole is primarily covered by drifting sea ice.
Polar bears are highly adapted to the Arctic environment, and their population is intricately linked to the health of the sea ice ecosystem. Conservation efforts are in place to address the challenges they face due to climate change and loss of sea ice habitat.

The North Pole is primarily covered by drifting sea ice and is not where animals reside permanently.

There have been sightings of animals at the Geographic North Pole, which include the Northern Fulmar, black-legged kittiwake and a ringed seal. However, it is rare to see animals this far north.
During your North Pole cruise, you will most likely encounter animals during shore landings in Svalbard and Greenland, sailing in open waters and pushing through the heavy pack ice on approaching the North Pole.

No, penguins do not live on the North Pole. Penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere and are not found in the Arctic region. The Arctic is home to a different set of wildlife adapted to the cold conditions of the Northern Hemisphere.

Penguins are most commonly associated with Antarctica, various sub-Antarctic islands, and the southern coasts of South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. They are not naturally present in the Arctic; you won’t find them living on or near the North Pole.

Polar bears, Arctic foxes, seals, walruses, whale species, and seabirds characterize the Arctic region. The wildlife in the Arctic has evolved to thrive in the extreme cold and icy conditions of the northern polar regions.

Choosing the best North Pole cruise for wildlife spotting depends on various factors, including the specific wildlife you want to see, the time of year, and the cruise itinerary.
When choosing a North Pole cruise for wildlife spotting, consider the following:

Itinerary

Look for cruises that cover regions known for wildlife activity, such as Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, or other Arctic islands.

Time of Year

Wildlife sightings can vary depending on the season. Consider cruising during the Arctic summer when many species are active.

Expedition Leaders and special guests

All our North Pole cruises have an experienced expedition team and naturalists who can enhance your wildlife spotting experience with their knowledge. Look at for special guests on different departures.

Remember that wildlife sightings are not guaranteed, and patience is essential. Climate conditions and the unpredictable nature of wildlife contribute to the uniqueness of each expedition. Always check the specific details of each cruise, including the itinerary, activities, and wildlife opportunities, before deciding.

Our Travel Experience Team is here to answer any questions on wildlife sightings and help you plan your North Pole Cruise.

Do you need help planning your expedition?

Our friendly and knowledgeable Travel Experience Team is ready to assist you.

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