About the High Arctic

It's chilly up here!

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About the High Arctic

It's chilly up here!

It is without doubt one of the greatest experiences to travel to the Arctic, the northerly extreme of the planet and one of its most beautiful and sensitive environments. During the summer months this otherwise harshly cold world comes alive with visiting and endemic wildlife. In places such as Svalbard, Greenland, northern Canada and Russia you can see the enigmatic polar bear roaming the sea ice as well as marine mammals such as whales, seals and walrus. Marvel at spectacular mountains springing from the sea, blue ice and grinding glaciers. Vast colonies of seabirds, come to breed and raise their young on the food-rich summer tundra.

The Arctic is redolent with stories of Viking conquest and European discovery, and myths from ancient Northern cultures. Those travellers fortunate enough to visit the High Arctic polar regions find themselves changed by the experience and longing to return.

The 'Top of the World'

Spanning the 'Top' of the World, the Arctic is the polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of North America, Russia and Europe. Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover, with predominantly treeless permafrost-containing tundra. Arctic seas contain seasonal sea ice in many places. The Arctic region is unique among Earth's ecosystems. Wildlife as well as indigenous peoples have adapted to its cold and extreme conditions.

Arctic Wildlife

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POLAR BEAR

The white king of the Arctic! Polar bears can be encountered in wide-ranging areas of the Arctic. Although most polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their lives on the sea ice.

BIRDS IN THE ARCTIC

Birdlife in the Arctic is diverse yet unique. The large numbers of birds during this period is a distinctive feature, since most bird species only spend the summer in the Arctic.

SEALS

True seals of the north. There are six species of true seals in the Atlantic Arctic; harbor seal, ringed seal, harp seal, hooded seal, bearded seal and grey seal.

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CETACEANS

Whales, dolphins and porpoises. Encounters with cetaceans are a common phenomenon in the Arctic and the number of species during the summer is around 15. The variety is great – ranging from the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, to one of the smallest cetaceans of them all, the harbor porpoise – as well as perhaps the most peculiar of them all, the narwhal.

WALRUS

The ‘tooth-walkers’ of the Arctic. The sight, sound – and not at least smell of a large group of walrus, is quite impressive. As the number of walrus and walrus haul-outs is increasing in some areas of the Arctic, so is the chance to see them.

REINDEER

Antler clad herbivore of the Arctic. The reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution native to the Arctic, the Subarctic and some alpine areas. There are several sub-species of reindeer with variations in size, color and antler appearance.

ARCTIC FOX

The cunning bi-colored hunter. The Arctic fox, also known as the white fox, polar fox, or snow fox, is a small-sized fox native to and common throughout the Arctic. It is well adapted to living in cold environments.

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Arctic Visitor Guidelines

All vessels that we represent are obligated to operate in accordance with national and international laws and regulations and have, in addition, agreed to follow an extensive set of guidelines to ensure operations are in accordance with objectives set out by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), including a number of site-specific guidelines and guidelines for visitors to the Arctic. If you would like to read AECO’s full set of guidelines for Arctic operations, ask your expedition leader for a copy or see them here.

Basic Principles

1. Leave no lasting signs of your visit

Leave no lasting signs of your visit means that you of course must not leave any litter behind, including small items such as cigarette butts. Do not engrave on rocks or buildings and do not build cairns, rearrange stones or in any other way leave visible signs of your visit. In addition we also ask you to watch where you set foot in order to protect the flora and vegetation and avoid path-making. Avoid stepping on flowers or plant beds if at all possible.

2. Do not pick flowers

In some parts of the Arctic flora is protected by law, in others not. But AECO regards all flora as protected and asks you to not pick flowers or other plants.

3. Do not take anything with you

We encourage you to leave the Arctic as it is. Cultural remains are protected. In addition we ask you to leave stones, bones, antlers, driftwood and other items where they are.

4. Do not disturb animals and birds

AECO regards all fauna in the Arctic as protected and will avoid disturbing animals and birds as far as possible. If close to animals and nesting birds, avoid making loud noises and keep conversation low and calm. AECO controls maximum group sizes when making landings and excursions and also minimum distances to various wildlife. You will be instructed by your leader. Please help us preserve the wildlife by following the instructions.

5. Leave cultural remains alone

Cultural remains are protected by law and a zone of 100 meters around the remains is also considered a protected zone. Watch where you are walking and standing. Walk around and not in between objects. Do not take anything with you and do not attempt to touch or rearrange objects.

6. Take the polar bear danger seriously

Polar bears are potentially dangerous animals, but also vulnerable. It is of the utmost importance that you follow your guide’s instructions. Important rules for behaviour in polar bear areas are listed below.

7. Respect local culture and local people

When visiting local communities, please remember that you are a guest. Respect people and local cultures. AECO will make every effort to make sure that our visits to local communities have positive and not negative impact. See more information below.

8. Be safe

Travel in Arctic areas may involve various risks. Rule number one is that you must always pay attention to and follow the instructions given by your expedition leader or guide. Never stray from your group. Some special considerations are mentioned below.

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Key Arctic Regions

Svalbard

Also known as Spitsbergen, the main island of the archipelago, Svalbard is halfway between North Cape and the North Pole, around 80 degrees North. Boasting a wildly beautiful coastline with spectacular mountains and grinding glaciers, Svalbard has a large population of polar bears roaming the pack ice hunting for seals and walrus. Spitsbergen is one of the most northerly landmasses in the Arctic at the edge of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. During the short summer Svalbard comes alive with visiting and endemic wildlife. Vast colonies of seabirds soar and circle over spectacular cliff breeding grounds. 

Greenland

Greenland is a remote wilderness with dramatic scenery, beautiful tundra and marvellous colours. Arctic wildlife such as polar bears, musk ox, whales and walrus. Greenland's vast ice-sheet is the largest in the Arctic and spawns huge glacier systems and icebergs. The ice-bound East Greenlandic coast is home to vast fjords, spectacular mountains and icebergs.  Some expeditions visit Scoresby Sund which is the largest fjord system in the world, more than 350 km long. The local Inuits live in remote settlements with unique culture.

Canadian Arctic

The wild and ice-bound Canadian Arctic lies across Baffin Bay from western Greenland. Travel here allow you to follow in the wake of legendary explorers such as Amundsen and Franklin. There are remote Inuit communities and a myriad of hardy Arctic wildlife and mighty scenery. The famous Northwest Passage was first transited by the great Roald Amundsen of Norway. 

Russian Arctic

A vast region stretching from Franz Josef Land in the West to the Bering Strait, the Siberian coastline and remote Wrangel Island are a treasure trove of Arctic biodiversity and known for a multitude of Polar Bears and Pacific Walrus and many unique species. Other Arctic wildlife such as Reindeer, Musk Ox and Snow Geese can also be seen. Also from the Russian Far North it is possible to reach the North Pole itself - the very Top of the World!

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