Many people have asked us about what kind of wildlife there is to see in Northern Norway, where and when you can see them, and what the best options are for seeing them on a holiday trip with World Sea Explorers.
Before I dive into this topic, I want to remind everyone about the current reality of our living planet. Biodiversity loss due to human activity continues to take its toll throughout the world, and seeing wildlife especially in the ocean, is not something that can be guaranteed. It is always going to be hit or miss whether you’re on a scientific expedition, filming a documentary, going on a sailing holiday, or enjoying a short fjord cruise. Another thing to remember is that the earth is warming and the weather in the arctic region is no longer stable. Every winter season is shorter, the glaciers are melting, the forecasts are less predictable, and extreme weather is more common. The dynamic arctic weather and biodiversity loss directly affects your chances of seeing wildlife in Northern Norway.
However, that is just a forewarning disclaimer with no intention to take the wind out of your sails. There are still great places in Northern Norway where wild animals are quite known to be seen between Lofoten, Tromsø and Svalbard. To see wildlife you need patience, perseverance, and be on the constant look out, but we’re here to help you understand when and where to go for the best chances of seeing them.
Between Saltstraumen near Bodø and the Lofoten Islands is a vast open sea area called Vestfjorden. This area has dozens of nature reserves key to the survival of an entire ecosystem of birds, flora and marine life. Sailing up close to these areas are allowed, but stepping foot on some of these islands is forbidden during certain months that are critical to the reproduction season of the local wildlife. Sailing through Vestfjorden between June-September provides the best opportunities to encounter an array of marine mammals and birds.
Marine mammals that have commonly been spotted in Vestfjord between May to September include the following: Northern fin whale, Humpback whale, Minke whale, Sperm whale, Killer whales or Orca, Long-finned Pilot whale, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Atlantic white-beaked dolphin, Harbour porpoises, Grey seals, Harbour seals and European otters.
Birds in the islands
During the Lofoten cod spawning season between March-April, the Norwegian Sea offers rich and productive feeding areas in the open sea, skerries, island shores, wetlands, nature preserves and maelstrom tidal exchanges for birds such as King and Common Eider, White-billed divers, Purple Sandpipers, Glaucous and Iceland gulls, white-tailed sea eagles.
Between June-August the Røst and Værøy Islands have Norway's largest seabird cliff colonies of Puffins as well as Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Shags, White-tailed Eagles and Petrels. Arctic Terns, Whimbrel, Arctic Skua, Turnstone, Red-necked Phalarope and a variety of ducks make these islands a stop on their autumn migration.
Versterålen is a cluster of islands north of the Lofoten islands. Just off the island of Andøya is a underwater canyon named Bleiksdjupet which is a feeding ground for sperm whales during the summer months. They hunt for squid and Greenland halibut in the deep and rise to the surface to breathe. It is important to give the whales space and peace for breathing while they are resting on the surface before diving into the deep again, so it is best to watch them from a respectable distance. During the summer, Sperm whales are the main attraction, but occasionally Killer whales and Pilot whales have also been spotted. During the winter, Humpback whales and Fin whales make an appearance as they move up the coast to hunt herring.
In the deep untouched forests, inland from the shore close to the borders of Finland and Sweden, there is a beautiful ecosystem of wild animals such as red fox, brown bear, wolves, wild salmon, badgers, mink, hare, moose, bats, beavers, owls, deer, grouse, martens, otter, lynx, wolverine, squirrels, musk and much more. The most commonly seen animals year round are moose, reindeer, white tailed eagles, golden eagles, diving ducks, minks, porpoises and seals. During the summer months, the outer islands in the Troms region is a paradise for bird watchers as hundreds of species of migrating birds from all over the world come to the area to mate and spawn.
From late October to the middle of January the Killer whales and Humpback whales come in to the fjords, following the Herring’s migration. The best time to see them is around the full moon of November when the Herring move deeper in to the end of the fjords where it is possible to encounter the whales up close.
Although Svalbard is known to be the land of polar bears and walruses, the number of wildlife species in Svalbard is relatively sparse due to the climatic conditions far to the north. However, individual species can consist of large numbers particularly among birds and fish. Climate change has affected Svalbard's wildlife and is making life more difficult for species that depend on sea ice, and new, species are migrating in from the south.
Mammals include polar bears, polar foxes, Svalbard reindeer, walruses, ringed seals, great seals and a variety of whales. Beluga whales are the most abundant in the coastal areas. Beluga whales, bowhead whales and narwhals can be spotted year round. Minke whales and Humpback whales make a visit in the summer months. Bowhead whales where hunted nearly to extinction between the 16th and 18th centuries, but have slowly made a come back. They have a lifespan of 200 years and there are only a few dozen known individuals left in the area.
So there you have it! The wildlife in arctic Norway is very diverse from the mountain tops to the deep sea, and the best advice I can give you to have the highest chance of seeing wild animals is time. You need to have time to observe and be on the look out, and you never know when you will be at the right place at the right moment to catch a glimpse of these beautiful animals that coexist with us on this earth.
What animals do you want to see in arctic Norway?