Top 10 Arctic Species and the facts you should know about them

Arctic animals have one thing in common, they have adapted to extreme temperatures and harsh arctic environment making them all very impressive species. The most iconic animal to the region is undeniably the polar bear living on ice and hunting for marine life. There are also various bird species, land animals such as wolverines, Arctic ground squirrels, marine mammals include seals, walrus, many species of whales and also narwhals and belugas.

The Arctic is the northernmost part of the Earth giving home to abundant wildlife and many cultures. It covers eight countries Canada, Alaska (United States), Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden and surrounded by the Arctic Ocean.

The major threats to the region are climate change, illegal fishing, overfishing, oil spills and shipping traffic. The ice cover has been shrinking, changing rapidly and temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the world. The most important action is to reduce and finally stop this destructive process in order to preserve the natural habitat of these amazing creatures.

Arctic Fox

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Photograph taken by Holly

Also called white fox or polar fox, the Arctic foxes have adapted to the rough climate with their deep, thick fur and round bodies that allows them to maintain a consistent body temperature. Their fur is white in the winter months but when the snow melts away it turns dark to blend in with the environment. Their incredible hearing allows them to hunt for small rodents, they can locate them even beneath the snow.The way the hunt is the most unique behaviour of these animals. When the fox hears and locates the animal under the snow, it leaps into the air and dives head first, breaking through the layer of snow right onto the prey beneath.

Narwhal

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Photograph taken by Paul Nicklen

With its long, spiraled tusk the narwhal looks like a cross between a unicorn and a whale. Also called the “unicorn of the ocean” they can be found Canadian Arctic and Greenlandic waters all year round. The narwhal is a marine mammal, warm-blooded, produces milk, gives birth to its young and breathes air. The tusk is actually a tooth, that can grow up to ten feet long. These fascinating animals don´t thrive in captivity, unlike their close relatives the Beluga whales.

Reindeer

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Photograph found on themagicfarawayttree.tumblr.com

Study found that reindeer numbers have dropped 60% in the last three decades. Reindeer and Caribou are the same species with two different names. These antlered deer can travel up to 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 km) in a year. Scientists say that the caribou can run as fast as 48 mph (80 km per hour).

Snowy Owl

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Photograph taken by Scott Linstead

Snowy Owls are active and hunt during the day and night, unlike most other owls. They feed mostly on lemmings, but when there is no food around they often leave the Arctic, and fly south. This is why they can be found as far south as the northern and central United States very rarely though.

Leopard Seal

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Photograph taken by Paul Nicklen

The leopard seal is named after its spotted coat pattern. It is the second largest species of seal in the world (behind the elephant sea). The females are larger and can weigh up to b (nearly 1000 pounds), and may reach lengths of 3.6 meters (11.8 ft). This large predator is rarely preyed upon by other animals with the exception of human hunters. They attack and eat other seals, penguins, fish and krill.

Beluga Whale

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Photograph taken by Jennifer Stuber

These white whales are dark grey when they are born and it can take up to eight years before they turn completely white. They are able to swim backwards and they can change the shape of their bulbous forehead, called a “melon”,  by blowing air around its sinuses. In 2009, a captive beluga whale rescued a distressed participant of a free diving competition by pushing her to the surface.

Polar Bear

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Photograph taken by Marco Gaiotti

Polar bears are the most iconic animals of the Arctics. They have serious swimming skills as they are able to swim 100 kilometers (62miles) without stopping. Only humans hunt polar bears and the disappearing of the ice means a serious threat for these species. Polar bears don’t hibernate, but mother bears live in dens while they raise their cubs. The mama bears are in their dens between January and March, during those months they don’t eat, drink or defecate.

Arctic Skua

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Photograph taken by Wim Van Den Heever

This seabird, related to the Great Skua is also famous for its feeding behaviour and also called as “avian pirate”. As the name indicates they harass and chase other birds like kittiwakes or puffins until they drop the food they are carrying. They mainly feed on small birds, mammals, rodents, eggs, and fish but some of them live solely by stealing foods from other birds.

Harp Seal

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Photograph taken by Keren Su

All puppies are cute but perhaps the cutest baby animals are the Harp Seal pups. The yellow coat they are born with, becomes snow white after a few days. The white pelts are prized by hunters, who sell their harvest to furriers. There are sanctions on annual seal hunts in Newfoundland, but some nations don’t regulate the hunts, and thousands of baby seals are slaughtered each year. Other threats are overfishing at the animals’ feeding grounds and by capturing the seals with fishing nets.

Walrus

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Photograph taken by Andy Silver

The translation of the latin name Odobenus rosmarus means “tooth-walking sea cow”. The name comes from the fact that the walrus uses its tusks to pull its bulk from the ocean onto the ice, which looks like if it was walking on its tusks. It also plays an important role in mating and dominance among the males and helps establish hierarchy within the herd. The walrus’ whiskers are not hairs, but extremely sensitive organs, like a cat’s whiskers. As the walrus doesn’t have a good eye-sight, the whiskers help them to find food. The walrus eats mollusks, snails, crabs and sea cucumbers.

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