The land temperature in the Arctic often drops below freezing and the ocean can get as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you think there’s no animal life because of these extreme temperatures, think again!
One of the most well-known animals in the Arctic is the polar bear. Polar bears are typically born on land, but live most of their lives on sea ice, where they catch seals that come to the water’s surface to breathe. Polar bears have very thick skin and fur, which allows them to stay warm in the sub-zero temperatures.
Walruses are another commonly found animal in the Arctic ecosystem. Like polar bears, walruses have thick layers of skin that keep them warm in the frigid temperatures, especially in the water. Walruses spend their time both on sea ice and in the ocean, where they hunt for fishes. The average lifespan of a walrus is 40 years.
Another aquatic mammal found in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding sea ice is the bearded seal. The bearded seal has thick whiskers on its upper lip that extend onto its cheek, and this “beard” gives this pinniped its name! They feed on prey found in the benthic—or deepest—layer of the ocean, including arctic cod, octopuses, shrimp, clams and crabs.
Don’t forget about the fishes in the Arctic Ocean! One of the more interesting inhabitants of the Arctic is the snailfish. Snailfish have long bodies, one dorsal fin and no scales, giving them a unique look. Additionally, they can attach themselves to surfaces in the water such as rocks, coral and algae. During the breeding process, females will lay eggs and then the males will aggressively protect these eggs to scare away predators.
Due to the effects of climate change, much of the sea ice that is providing a home for these incredible species is melting. Experts now consider the populations of some animals that call the Arctic home, including polar bears, to be threatened because of this habitat loss. The Arctic may be far away, but conservation efforts made by individuals can have an impact around the world.
To learn more about how you can help the Arctic, check out these facts about climate change!