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Wildlife in Norway

While most are drawn to Norway for its famous fjords and glorious mountains, many are thrilled to discover a range of wildlife thriving in its waters, skies, and hillsides.

4 mins read

A combination of Norway’s northerly location, elongated coastline and diverse ecosystems have created a unique habitat for many species. This is a sparsely populated land with probably more wildlife than people strewn across its thousands of islands, mountain ranges and spectacular fjords. Half the country sits above the Arctic Circle, home to distinct birds and animals not found in the southern regions.

Biggest brain on the planet

During wintertime on the Norwegian coast, humpbacks and orcas can be spotted in the waters north of Tromsø. From late May to the middle of September, Norway’s summertime waters attract other whale species such as sperm and minke whales.

Sperm whales are renowned for their large head and prominent domed foreheads. This feature comes in handy when you have the largest brain of any creature to have lived on earth. But is that all the sperm whales head encases? Scientists have found that their heads also hold considerable quantities of an oily substance called spermaceti. What is its purpose? No one ones for sure, but one theory is that it aids the animal’s buoyancy.

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales, often measuring longer than an average bus and weighing up to 45 tonnes. The front third of its body is made up of its dome-shaped head which encases the animal kingdom’s largest brain. To maintain their size and perhaps also to fuel their huge brain, they eat about a tonne of fish and squid per day.

The fish that built Norway

For more than a thousand years, Vikings produced and ate dried cod, even using it for trade. This makes it Norway’s oldest export. The word skrei comes from the Norse word skreið which means ‘fish that wanders’. And wander it does. Every winter and spring, cod migrate in large numbers to the Norwegian coast, sustaining important livelihoods for locals. Dry fish production and trade still thrives in Norway today, such as in the Lofoten Islands.

Photogenic reindeer

The nomadic reindeer lives in large herds and travels long distances between its summer and winter-feeding areas. Today, herding reindeer in Norway is an exclusive privilege of the indigenous Sámi people.

Straddling a line between domesticated and wild animal, they are free to roam and graze where they choose. Like cows, reindeer are very even-tempered. As long as their surroundings are calm and still, they will happily feed around you and even pose for photos if their Sámi owners are nearby.

Birds of prey

Watching a predatory bird engaged in a hunt is a thrilling aspect of birdwatching. The combination of raw speed, power and instinct coming together with such efficiency is fascinating to behold. In Norway, you’ll have a chance to observe 15 different bird-of-prey species including falcons, osprey, buzzards and eagles.

Northern Norway has the biggest population of white-tailed eagles in Europe, which is the largest bird of prey on the continent. It can have a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres. An optional sea eagle safari excursion during your expedition cruise may allow you to see just how big this bird is up close.

Underwater royalty

The king crab is actually a late arrival to Norway’s waters. Initially, it belonged to the northern Pacific area and was introduced in the Murmansk Fjord near the Norwegian-Russian border in the 1960s.

They are one of the biggest and most sought-after crustaceans in the world, weighing as much as 10 kg. The shield length can be up to 25 cm, and with extended claws, they can measure almost two metres across. The meat of the king crab is considered a delicacy, making it an essential part of the local fishing culture.

A skeleton on the outsider

Mainly made of calcium, a king crab's shell is actually its skeleton. They will even moult this skeleton and grow new ones a few times in their 20 to 30-year life cycle. The tough carapace acts as a natural shield against predators such as cod, halibut, and octopuses. The weight of the skeleton, however, as much as 24 pounds, means king crabs can’t swim and are instead limited to clambering slowly along the sea floor with their long limbs.

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Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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