Petra Jan is here with us today to tell you all about the wildlife of Svalbard! She is the proud owner of the blog Erratic Engineeress and has written many posts about Svalbard. If this interests you, then be sure to check her out!
If you want to learn about finding places to work with animals without exploitation, then check out my blog post here.
I also have some fun posts, like my scariest experiences to do with animals involving buffalo and lions!
Without further adieu, where is Svalbard?
If you’re an animal lover looking for your next travel destination, the Arctic wilderness of Svalbard might not be your first pick, but here’s why it should be!
Svalbard is an archipelago located 78 degrees north, well within the Arctic circle. Its largest town, Longyearbyen, is actually the northernmost permanent human settlement on Earth.
Although it’s an independent province with its own governor and special restrictions, it’s officially part of Norway. However, the fact that Svalbard has more polar bear residents than people is probably where I’ll catch your attention.
Polar bears are also the first on the list of wildlife you can responsibly and safely encounter during your visit to Svalbard.
The rules of seeing polar bears …
Many polar bears roam Svalbard freely, so tourist activities are limited to organised tours. You’re not allowed to leave Longyearbyen without a guide and rifle.
While that might sound a little scary, it is also a great adventure and I promise you that all the professional guides know what they’re doing. Guides are not allowed to needlessly shoot polar bears without warning shots. They refrain from hurting the bears unless absolutely necessary. Polar bear killings are taken quite seriously and must be reported to the governor.
Respect for wildlife is the prevailing sentiment in all animal tours. Guides are not allowed to bait or interact with animals to specific spots, so you need luck to see them.
Ways to see the bears and other animals …
Seeing a polar bear in the wild is actually not as common as you would think. I got extremely lucky and saw one through binoculars during a boat tour to Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian coal mining town.
Depending on the season, you can look for bears on a snowmobile safari during the polar night winter. Or, you can see them during a boat trip during the summer. Besides polar bears you can also see plenty of seals playing in the water or longing on the floating ice, as well as 12 species of whales.
There are several whale watching tours available, but my personal favourite was a wildlife tour to a walrus colony. Svalbard is home to the large Atlantic walrus species, and they like to keep warm in cuddle puddles on the shore, which is just about the most adorable sight I’ve ever seen!
Companies for wildlife seeing …
There are several companies offering wildlife tours on Svalbard and you can find them listed here along with numerous other activities. Arctic survival gear, warm clothes and some snacks are of course included in all tours.
As you can imagine wildlife tours in a remote place like Svalbard are quite expensive. However, if you can’t splurge for them, you can still encounter some animals.
Svalbard has its own special subspecies of fluffy white reindeer, which roam freely around town. They are easy to spot during the day. If you’re very lucky, you’ll even see an Arctic fox sneaking behind the houses…
If birds are your thing, it is even easier, because there are over 200 species of migratory birds living on Svalbard. Some of them are pretty hardcore, with built-in padded feet for warmth or migrating over 3000 km every year. You can see them pretty much everywhere, but the best bird spotting places are Fuglafjella, a mountain you can hike to, or Alkefjellet, the bird cliffs you can visit on a boat tour.
So, I hope I’ve inspired you to put the incredible Svalbard archipelago on your bucket list and if you want to read more about my visit to the walrus colony and other spots, you’re welcome to check out all my Svalbard blog posts here!
19 thoughts on “Svalbard – 78 degrees north and full of life”
Wow, I have always been intrigued by Svalbard but never knew that it had such a wide variety of wildlife! I’m also so shocked to hear that you aren’t allowed to leave Longyearbyen without an official guide. I’d be so excited to spot some of those reindeer in town, too!
Svalbad was already on my list to be honest, but I’m not a fan of the cold so I’d definitely be going i summer!
I hope it’s just as beautiful in the summer!
This is my first time hearing about Svalbard and I’d for sure love to see some polar bears there! It’s awesome that those tour companies take care of them and don’t bait these beautiful creatures just for $$$.
Yes I agree! It seems like a very ethical encounter
Woooah this would be sooo cool! I mean, even if the wildlife tours are pricey, I would still be very tempted, I mean it’s not often that you have the chance to see a polar bear!! I love the fluffy bottom of the reindeer too! 😀
Fabulous photos Petra!
Wildlife tours are always pricey unfortunately :/ but it’s usually worth it!
Svalbard and its animal inhabitants are fascinating. Polar bears, Walrus, Reindeers, seems like a dream destination. Hope to be there some day.
And I too hope you get the chance to go
Wow this looks like an incredible experience!! I can’t imagine seeing a polar bear like this! Definitely adding this to the bucket list and pinning it for later!
I’m glad Petra and I have given you something new to look forward to!
Wow! What a cool place, can’t believe that the polar bears roam around!
Wildlife is truly amazing to see in their natural habitats
I had looked into guided land and sea tours a couple of years ago and, like you, I was surprised how expensive they are. Not as expensive an and Antarctica cruise, Well, I guess that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I believe both of those are once-in-a-lifetime! Worth every penny though
Wow, this is an amazing experience!
Thank you! I’m glad you liked reading the post.
Thanks for letting me write a guest post! 🙂
Thank YOU for taking the time to write such a wonderful post!!