Things to know

  • Greenland may be a vast adventurer's playground, but it's far from an Arctic zoo. If wildlife is your number one priority, consider Svalbard or Churchill
  • Animals most frequently sighted include seals, whales, musk oxen, reindeer and a variety of birds
  • With a favourable wind and more than a little luck, you may spot a polar bear, arctic fox, mountain hares, walrus, lemmings and ermine
  • Hunting is still very important to the locals - both culturally and as a means of subsistence – so wildlife is wary and hard to spot

Wildlife of Greenland

Musk Oxen

Although they resemble bison, these rather strange looking animals are actually very large goats and can weigh up to 900lbs. With impressive horns and enormous shaggy coats they are an iconic Arctic species that likes to feed on the rolling tundra in small family groups.

Their wool is ten times warmer than cashmere, but hard to process making it expensive to buy. The best place to spot herds of these creatures, is Kangerlussuaq on Greenland’s west coast. However, they can be encountered on the tundra in a number of other locations.

Greenland Wildlife

Musk Oxen in East Greenland

Reindeer (caribou)

This species of the deer family (also known as caribou in North America) has been living wild in Greenland for thousands of years and is the most widespread land mammal on the west coast. You are fairly likely to see reindeer on a hike on the tundra, particularly between Paamiut and Uummannaq.

Reindeer have always been an important prey for hunters and are shy as a result and quick to spook.

Greenland Wildlife

Graceful reindeer in Svalbard

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Alex says

Tracking musk ox across East Greenland’s windswept, autumnal tinged tundra was thrilling. These extraordinary animals look like they’ve just stepped out of The Ice Age.

Alex Mudd Head of Swoop Antarctica


Only approx. 60 bird species are permanent residents to Greenland, their numbers swell to about 235 by the rich variety of summer migratory visitors. One of the most striking is Greenland’s largest breeding bird, the white-tailed eagle, seen around southern coasts.

The auk is the most common breeding bird, but fulmars are sighted more frequently. The eider is the most important breeding wildfowl in Greenland - particularly common in coastal regions all over the island. The ptarmigan breeds all over Greenland, with white plumage in winter and grey in summer. The snow bunting is a summer visitor and you can see two species of falcon - peregrine and gyr.



The coastal waters around Greenland teem with whales, with up to 15 species being natives or regular visitors. The best time to spot them is once the winter ice has retreated, from early June to late September.

The most commonly sighted varieties are humpback, fin and minke whales. Occasionally blue whales and pods of killer whales (orca) can also be spotted. The only whales that are year-round residents are bowhead, narwhal and beluga whales - all arctic species rarely sighted elsewhere. Whale hunting, for centuries an essential means of subsistence for Greenlanders, is still permitted, but strictly controlled by quotas.


Humpback whale among the ice

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Swoop says

While other parts of the Arctic offer better wildlife opportunities, the waters of west Greenland are outstanding for whale watching and very photogenic set against icebergs.

Polar Bears

The world’s largest land predator is an iconic symbol, emblematic of the Arctic and features in Greenland’s official coat of arms.

Significant numbers live in the northernmost parts of West Greenland and in Northeast Greenland - the most remote and uninhabited regions. It’s therefore extremely rare to see a living polar bear. However, they do occasionally appear in the south during the summer months, having drifted southwards down the east coast with the pack ice before coming ashore.

Your best chances of spotting a polar bear in Greenland is onboard an expedition ship in east Greenland.

Greenland Wildlife


The seas around Greenland are thronged with seals. Seal hunting has been an essential part of the local way of life for thousands of years, and continues to this day. None of the five local species is threatened with extinction.

The harp seal is the most common species of seal in Greenland. It arrives on Greenland’s southern coast around May from its breeding grounds around Newfoundland. The hooded seal is the largest of the five species, while the ringed seal - polar bears favourite food - is the smallest. The other two species, the bearded seal and the common seal, are relatively rare.

Ringed seal

Our best Greenland wildlife trips

East Greenland Express

Saving three days at sea by flying both ways, East Greenland’s towering icebergs, vivid displays of the Aurora Borealis and autumn tinged landscapes have never been more accessible. Highlights include exploring Scoresby Sund, the world’s largest fjord system, and the…

  • 10 Days
  • $6,695
Svalbard, Greenland & Iceland Polar Quest

Introductions to the High Arctic don’t come much better. Traverse the High Arctic between wildlife-rich Svalbard, via East Greenland’s towering icebergs and autumnal tundra then onto Iceland. Aurora sightings are possible at any point. The longer trip also includes Jan…

  • 15 - 18 Days
  • $10,495
High Arctic Explorer: Svalbard, Greenland & Iceland

Beginning in Svalbard before sailing west across the Greenland Sea and exploring Greenland’s long eastern coastline to finish in Iceland, this is an audacious Arctic journey of startling diversity and contrast. Spectacular landscapes, towering glaciers and once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters will…

  • 13 or 15 Days
  • $6,072
Northwest Passage, Ellesmere & West Greenland

Traversing west to east this voyage takes you to iconic sites such as Cambridge Bay, Lancaster and Smith Sounds and Ellesmere Island, before exploring the fjords and towns of West Greenland. Bears, narwhal, musk ox, beluga and northern lights are…

  • 17 Days
  • $11,995

When to go

For wildlife, the summer and early autumn are definitely the best times to visit. The onset of summer’s warmer temperatures triggers the annual arrival of vast numbers of migratory birds - visiting only to breed, as well as whales.

Greenland Wildlife

Sun sets over Greenland

Plan your trip to Greenland


When to Visit Greenland

Greenland wears very different cloaks depending on when you choose to visit: spring, summer or autumn. Each has its own enchanting characteristics making it tough to decide which …

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Getting to Greenland

For such a large country surrounded by close neighbours, it isn’t a straightforward place to get to, but this is very much part of Greenland’s charm. Whether travelling by air …

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From Greenland’s vast size and diversity of landscape to her welcoming people and vibrant city, it’s a staggering place on so many levels. For the adventure traveller, few …

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Help Me Choose

Help Me Choose

We're all clear on where the Arctic is located and why we want to visit, but its vastness and the sheer variety of experiences on offer can be a real challenge when deciding where …

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