The Arctic remains one of the few corners of the Earth that has survived in its original form, and contrary to expectations, life is in full swing here. When the air temperature does not rise above 0 ° C even at the height of summer, icy winds blow all year round, and the sun does not appear over the horizon for almost six months, the main task of the inhabitants of these places is to preserve body heat in any way and not freeze. Despite the extremely cold conditions, there is a surprising amount of animal life in Antarctica.
If you are fond of seeing penguins, visit https://ragnaryacht.com/blog/a-mystery-of-the-penguin-city-in-antarctica-ragnar-blog/ to find out how penguins’ “cities” look like and read where to witness thousands of penguins gathered together. Besides, before you start planning a trip to see some pretty spectacular animal life, read about polar misconceptions and myths to know what cold-dwelling creature actually lives where.
So, we created a list of the most incredible animals you can expect to find on Earth’s most southerly continent.
Whether visitors to the Arctic will be able to see whales depends on luck. But close acquaintance with herds of seals and walruses is guaranteed. An adult walrus can be easily distinguished by its hard vibrissae on the muzzle and huge tusks reaching a meter in length. This is one of the largest inhabitants of the North, and among the pinnipeds, only the elephant seal is larger than it.
To pull his huge body weighing up to two tons onto the ice, the walrus has to rely on tusks. A layer of subcutaneous fat up to 15 cm thick saves huge animals from the cold, but it almost became the reason for their complete extermination. Today hunting for them is prohibited, an exception is made only for peoples whose survival depends on the extraction of walruses.
Narwhal is a unique marine mammal found only in the Arctic. In Svalbard (Norway), the species is under special protection. This representative of toothed whales can boast of only two upper teeth, one of which in males grows into a tusk twisted into a spiral up to 3 m long and weighing 10 kg.
In the Middle Ages, the tusks of this animal, which entered Europe as a rare wonder, gave rise to the myth of the unicorn. The purpose of the tusk is not exactly known. It can be a kind of “signal antenna”, a tournament weapon and a means for breaking through thin ice.
The largest inhabitants of the Arctic Ocean are huge whales. And the bowhead whale, the only one of all its relatives, spends its entire life in the cold polar waters. This huge mammal ranks second in the world in body weight, reaching one hundred tons, second only to the blue whale. Besides, the bowhead whale has a lifespan of 200 years. It is possible that a giant, born during the Napoleonic wars, still plows the Arctic waters.
The beluga whale, which, due to its small size, is often called the “polar dolphin”, very rarely leaves the Arctic expanses. These whales, only 5-6 meters long, gradually change their skin color from blue to white with age. They are very talkative and can make a rich palette of sounds: moo, whistle, gurgle, click, sigh, creak and roar. And polar explorers affectionately call belugas “sea canaries”.
The most famous permanent inhabitant of the Arctic is the polar bear, one of the largest land-based predators on the planet and the largest member of its family. Some males of this species grow up to three meters in length and weigh up to a ton.
Polar bears have adapted so well to Arctic conditions that they cannot be found anywhere except in the Arctic. White color makes predators invisible in the icy desert. A thick layer of subcutaneous fat saves from frost. Thick fur repels water and perfectly retains heat. The soles of the paws are “lined” with fur so that they do not freeze or slip on the ice. In search of prey, bears are able to swim tens of kilometers, and their excellent scent allows them to smell their favorite delicacy, the ringed seal, from hundreds of meters away. Incredible endurance, agility and strength made these animals the real rulers of the Arctic.
The largest ungulates in the Arctic are the mighty musk oxen, outwardly similar to bison. These ancient animals appeared on Earth at the same time as mammoths, but managed to survive. The only thing that saved the musk oxen was that they were able to escape to the uninhabited expanses of the Arctic. Huge horns help them dig up snow and find dry vegetation. And the thick and long wool covers almost the entire body, like the warmest blanket in the world.
In search of food, huge herds travel up to 5 thousand km a year. Flat and wide, pointed at the edges of the hooves turn these animals into amphibious all-terrain vehicles: they can walk through snow, ice and swamps, swim across rivers and sea straits. Reindeer migration is one of the most spectacular sights in the world.
The avian world of the Arctic is much richer than you might expect. Besides, 70% of the world’s goose population is registered in the Arctic Circle, where almost half of the world’s coastal bird species form huge colonies.
But the most amazing bird of all the feathered inhabitants of the Arctic is the rose gull. The first of the Europeans to see her was the English navigator James Clark Ross. The ships of the expedition, which he headed, fell into ice captivity and were forced to spend two wintering in the Arctic. And only when a pink gull flew over the masts, the ice parted. For many years, no one believed the stories of the pioneers that they saw rose gulls. Only in 1904 was it possible to finally find the nesting places of these birds and prove that they exist at all. And the rosy gull has forever remained a symbol of the heroism of the conquerors of the Arctic.
Most birds fly to the Arctic only for the summer and leave at the first sign of a severe winter approaching. But there are also permanent residents here. For example, the ptarmigan, which prefers to stay close to the herds of white deer in winter. They tear the snow with their hooves in search of lichens, and the partridge also finds something to eat. And if it gags, it can become the prey of the polar owl, the most formidable of the Arctic winged predators. Its wingspan is more than one and a half meters, and its sharp claws can even cope with ermines and hares.
So, antarctic animals are unlike anything you’ll find in any other part of the world as the extreme landscape has ensured that only very specific animals can survive and thrive.