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6 Species that Make the Arctic Awesome

Paul Nicklen:National Geographic
© Paul Nicklen/NGS Image Collection

The Arctic region is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular ecosystems our natural world has to offer. Home to rich indigenous cultures and birds and animals who live nowhere else on earth, it’s without a doubt that this place is worth protecting. From seabirds to pinnipeds to cetaceans and more, these six animals are just a few that illustrate the diversity and abundance of this ecosystem!

Arctic Tern

Marian Herz
© Marian Herz

These little birds only weigh around 0.22 pounds, but their capabilities are astounding for their size. Not only can they snatch up fish just below the water’s surface, they can also simultaneously glide while sleeping or eating. Talk about some professional multitaskers! Like hummingbirds, this species showcases the ability to hover in midair. They also have one of the longest known migration routes, traveling up to 90,000 km in just one year. That’s one efficient flyer!

Ringed Seals

Loren Sztajer
© Loren Sztajer

The smallest of all seal species, ringed seals might take the cake when it comes to cutest animals in the Arctic. But their cuteness isn’t the only thing that makes them unique. They boast incredibly useful claws on their front flippers that help them build breathing holes in the ice, proving just how well-adapted to the environment they truly are. Since they can dive up to 300 feet and hold their breath for extended periods of up to 45 minutes, their ability to excavate through the ice proves especially handy when they need to quickly escape predators like polar bears and orcas.

Narwhal

narwhal_pod.adapt.945.1
© Paul Nicklen/NGS Image Collection

We’d be remiss if we didn’t include the “unicorns of the sea” on this list. Narwhals travel in pods of between 10 and 100 individuals, but have been known to aggregate into communities of nearly a thousand. While they’re a member of the porpoise family, narwhals are unique in that they don’t migrate from the Arctic when the seasons change. They spend the entire year in waters surrounding Canada, Russia and Greenland. Something you may not have known: while narwhals are known for their tusks, that ‘tusk’ is actually one big tooth!

Puffin

Puffin
© Ian Schofield/Fotolia

The puffin is one of the most emblematic seabirds of the North Pacific and Bering Sea region. The flashy, brightly-colored beaks on these flyers aren’t just for show, though; they’re an excellent tool to attract potential mates. The bigger and brighter the beak, the more appealing they are to birds of the opposite sex. They’re also incredibly family-oriented, keeping the same mate every year and dedicating all the time that’s needed to make sure their puffin family is happy and sustained. Moms and dads take dual responsibility for raising puffin babies, and lay only one egg per year to dedicate to nurturing the little one. Talk about standout parenting!

Beluga

Beluga whales diving in deep water
© Wollwerth Imagery/Fotolia

This whale species absolutely loves Arctic waters and is especially adapted to its chilly environment. With a layer of blubber that’s five inches thick and a dorsal ridge atop its back, it can navigate with no problem through the bitter choppy waters of the Arctic. Able to dive for up to 800 meters for nearly half an hour at a time, belugas are incredibly adept to finding fish and invertebrates to snack on between the water column and the seafloor. While they’re known for their distinct white coloration, they’re actually born dark grey, and may not turn all the way white for up to 8 years.

Copepod

UK Natural History Museum
© UK Natural History Museum

These creatures may not be the cutest, but they’re essential to Arctic ecosystems. They’re super-small crustaceans that thrive virtually anywhere in the waters they call home. In fact, within the water column, there are more of these little ‘insects of the sea’ than any other multicellular organism. The name ‘copepod’ actually means ‘oar-footed,’ and the name is more than appropriate: they use their pairs of four to five little legs (and sometimes even their mouth and tail) to get themselves around. If it weren’t for these itty bitty organisms at the bottom of the food chain, we wouldn’t have the other iconic species we think of when the Arctic comes to mind.

Aren’t these creatures amazing? It’s hard to envision an Arctic without these unique animals—and they all depend on a healthy Arctic marine environment. There are so many ways you can help. Together, we can make sure Arctic waters are healthy and preserved for years to come. Take action today and help us ensure a vibrant, thriving Arctic is possible; we know these species can count on you to protect their home!

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