A Guide to Svalbard Wildlife

16 September 2022
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Arctic, Poseidon Expeditions, Svalbard, Wildlife

Whilst the scenery of Spitsbergen is a huge reason to visit this remote archipelago in the high Arctic, the biggest draw of visiting this region is of course its wildlife. It’s home to a vast range of birds, some mammals and plenty of marine wildlife and it is pretty much guaranteed you will spot some of each on your expedition cruise to Svalbard. Here we list some of the incredible creatures you could be lucky enough to encounter…

Svalbard Reindeer

The smallest sub-species of Reindeer, Svalbard reindeer are usually spotted in fairly sparse groups around the archipelago. Characterised by their short, somewhat stumpy legs, and short dense fur which provides the much-needed insulation for life in this remote region. You’ll often spot clumps of this fur whilst exploring landing sites, and are sure to spot them grazing on steep cliff faces, or lounging in the tundra.

Svalbard reindeer


Despite there being two different types of walrus (Atlantic & Pacific) the majority of them live in the northern Atlantic region, and with a large population in Svalbard alone, you are very likely to spot one on your Svalbard cruise. These huge pinnipeds are semi-aquatic so if you don’t spot them lounging about on ice floes, you’re likely to see them in the water, although you won’t spot them feeding, as they do this on the sea bed, usually hoovering up molluscs although some large males have been known to eat birds and other small mammals. The huge tusks they are often sporting are actually oversized canine teeth, and an easy way to tell them apart from seals if spotted from a distance from your expedition cruise ship.

Walrus, Svalbard

Bearded Seal

There are a few different species of seal you may spot in Svalbard, the bearded seal being, arguably, the most likely. They are the largest species of Arctic seal and boast an extremely long set of whiskers which are used to find food on the ocean floor. You will often see them inhabiting areas of broken pack ice, where they need to be extremely vigilant so as to not end up a meal for their biggest predator – the polar bear.

Bearded seal, Svalbard

Hooded Seal

The hooded seal is found only in the north and western Arctic ranging from Svalbard across to the Canadian Arctic. They are known for the stretchy ‘hood’ which is in their nose, males inflate this to attract a female during the breeding season. They are characterised by their silvery/blueish coat, with black spots and of course the unique naval cavity, which you may have seen in action during the new series of Frozen Planet which aired this month.

Hooded seal, Svalbard

Arctic Fox

During shore excursions on your Svalbard expedition cruise, keep an eye out for this furry creature. Early in the Svalbard summer (May-June) these little guys are likely to still be sporting white in their fur but are sure to be turning browner in hue, a sign that the landscape is changing from snowy, ice-covered shores to rocky, brown tundra, giving them the ability to stay camouflaged in their surroundings, whatever the time of year.

Arctic fox, Svalbard


Kittiwakes are one of the most common Arctic birds, and you’ll find them in large numbers in Svalbard. They are distinguished from other gulls by the black-tipped feathers on their grey wings. You’ll likely see these nesting in cliff faces along with many other species of sea birds.

Kittiwakes nesting

Brünnich’s Guillemot

The Brünnich’s Guillemot is slightly smaller than its more abundant cousin the Common Guillemot, you can tell them apart though as the Brünnich’s has a white strip along the top of their head. You’ll find these everywhere in Svalbard, nesting in bird cliffs, flying overhead and simply bobbing away in the water.

Brünnich’s Guillemot

Polar bear

Last but not least, the king of the Arctic. The polar bear is the main draw for visitors to Svalbard, and it’s no surprise why. These magnificent creatures are found in large numbers here, often patrolling the sea ice edge for any unsuspecting seals. When you travel to Svalbard with Poseidon Expeditions, they will do their best to spot the region’s most famous residents, from a safe distance, and you will be able to learn all about them, and other wildlife found here from their onboard experts.

If you would like to find out more about a trip to Svalbard with Poseidon Expeditions, please speak to our polar specialists on 0203 196 1000 or enquire here.

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