March 29, 2017
The vast Greenland ice sheet covers around 80% of this huge landmass. If you’ve yet to visit Greenland, you would be forgiven for assuming it is difficult for any animals in Greenland apart from polar bears, walrus and reindeer to survive, never mind thrive here. However, in spite of the ice, Greenland boasts an amazing array of native and visiting wildlife. And so, in addition to Greenland’s legendary and magnificent scenery, to see Arctic wildlife is also one of the key reasons why you should add ‘travel to Greenland’ to your 2017 travel bucket list.
The Polar Bear is probably the animal that’s most synonymous with the Far North and the most well-known element of Arctic wildlife. Although not usually as easy to see them when you visit Greenland as for example in Svalbard, bears can be found mainly in eastern and northern areas. Regardless, managing to see a Polar Bear – whether it’s for the first time or the fifty-first time, is always a remarkable experience. Greenland Polar Bears will usually hunt seals along the coast in winter. And in summer eat vegetation on the shore.
The musk ox is the largest land animal in Greenland (polar bears are classified as a marine mammal). Musk Oxen are often to be found in large herds in western Greenland – usually at the gateway to the Greenland ice sheet at Kangerlussuaq. They congregate here to take advantage of the good grazing which is available. Huge and hairy, weighing in at up to 400kg with long horns, they are an impressive sight.
You can find lemmings in Greenland in the north east of the country – usually located somewhere between the ice sheet and the sea ice. Lemmings are Greenland’s only rodent, a key part of the food chain and a vital prey species for wildlife in Greenland. Arctic foxes, Snowy owls, stoats and weasels all feed on them as well as birds of prey like the skua and white-tailed eagle. Numbers of lemmings have fluctuated in recent years, possibly due to climate change and this has great effect on other species.
The Greenland wolf – a protected species – is usually found within the North East Greenland national park. It’s a subspecies of the Gray Wolf. There are also Arctic Wolves in Greenland. These are quite rare but if sighted, it’s usually in the north of the country. A rare but beautiful part of Greenland’s wildlife.
You can also find the Arctic Hare in the northernmost parts of Greenland. The polar rabbit, as it is sometimes referred to, is white and difficult to spot as it usually digs holes in the ground under the snow to keep warm. They are also fast – and can run at a speed of 40 mph / 60 kmph.
There are around 60 species of birds that regularly breed in Greenland. And over 150 species visit over the summer period, with 235 different species observed in the Greenland skies. The Ptarmigan is a ground feeding bird that is the size of a small hen and it breeds all over the country. It’s quite a secretive bird and will usually be found hiding around rocks and bushes, and is very well camouflaged against the Greenland tundra.
The white-tailed eagle is Greenland’s largest breeding bird. It will eat fish and sea faring birds. You’ll have the best chance of seeing this beautiful and majestic bird on the southern part of the west coast of Greenland. It is such a splendid species to see in the wild.
Seals – harbor, hooded, harp, bearded and ringed seals.
Seals are relatively easy to spot all around Greenland’s coastline. The ringed, harp and hooded seals are the most common. Seals offer a great photographic opportunity and are best observed on a Zodiac cruise from one of the expedition cruises visiting Greenland.
Walrus can often be found resting on the ice around the coastline of the West, East and North of Greenland. Occasionally haulouts can be found on beaches, with a congregation of 20 or more of these huge and enigmatic beasts lying together. They are quite a sight to behold – particularly when you consider that they can weigh around one tonne / one ton and their tusks are around 0.5 metres long!
Whales – humpback, killer, minke, beluga, blue, narwhals.
Many species of whale frequent Greenland’s shores. That’s why whale watching in Greenland is one the best places to observe these beautiful creatures. It’s quite overwhelming to see whales in the natural environment for the first time.
You’re likely to find Fin and Minke whales in Southern Greenland’s fjord systems. In the north at Greenland’s Disko Bay you are can spot Minke, Fin, Humpback and Bowhead whales.
The fjords around Nuuk on the west coast of Greenland are home to around a dozen humpback whales in the summer. Greenland is also the home of the beluga whale and narwhals and although they are harder to spot, they can be seen in the more remote areas of the coast. For part of the year, blue whales and killer whales also travel through Greenland’s waters.
If the thought of seeing all this wonderful Greenland wildlife is making you think of planning a trip, the team at Expeditions Online would be delighted to advise you and help you explore the area. We specialise in small-ship, polar expeditions throughout the Arctic – including travel to Greenland.
Join a cruise to Greenland with opportunities to see Greenland’s wildlife against a backdrop of dramatic scenery. There are expeditions that explore either West or East Greenland. Feel free to peruse some of our cruise options below, or get in touch to ask any questions you may have.
West Greenland and Disko Bay: Sea Spirit – sailing in May
Three Arctic Islands: Ocean Adventurer – sailing in July/August
Spitsbergen, Greenland, Iceland: Sea Spirit - sailing in August
Greenland Explorer: Ocean Adventurer - sailing in August
Jewels of the Arctic: Polar Pioneer - sailing in August
Iceland, Greenland & Baffin Island: Arctic Traverse - sailing in August
Spitsbergen & Northeast Greenland: MV Plancius - sailing in August/September
Greenland Northern Lights: Ocean Adventurer - sailing in September
East Greenland: Arctic Sights & Northern Lights - sailing in September
Greenland’s Northern Lights: Ocean Nova - sailing in September
Scoresby Sund, Aurora borealis: Plancius - sailing in September