Spitsbergen Fast Facts
- The Norwegian territory of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago is situated above the Arctic Circle at 78° 45′ 0″ N.
- Initially used as a whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries, coal mining began on the island at the end of the 19th century and, along with tourism, remains the main industry to this day.
- With a population of just 2,800 that mostly live in Longyearbyen (the largest settlement), Spitsbergen is also one of the safest places on earth, with practically no crime.
- Despite its proximity to the North Pole, the winters in Spitsbergen can be up to 20 degrees higher than its Russian and Canadian counterparts on similar latitudes, thanks to the North Atlantic Current which moderates the temperatures.
- The average summer temperature ranges from 4 to 6 degrees Celsius.
Arctic Wilderness, Spitsbergen
Most famous as being home to the elusive polar bear, Spitsbergen is also a celebrated breeding ground for many seabirds and marine mammals.
The ‘smiling’ Beluga or White whales can be found in any of Spitsbergen’s coastal waters but they often frequent fjords near glacier fronts. They are a now protected species in Svalbard but are unfortunately still hunted in Canada and Greenland today.
Both Bearded and Ringed seals call Spitsbergen home. It’s not difficult to tell the two species apart from size alone – bearded seals are double the size of their ringed counterparts. The Ringed seal is also characterised by its dark back with a varied pattern of rings and sightings are quite rare.
The majestic polar bear is the largest bear species in the world. Around 3,000 of these beautiful mammals call Spitsbergen home. The best time to spot them in the wild is through the summer months from June to September, as the Midnight Sun gradually melts the ice packs – making closer navigation into the area possible and concentrating the bears into particular areas.
Spitsbergen is home to the social Atlantic walrus. The largest seal species in the Arctic, coming second worldwide only to the male Elephant seal, the walrus are characterised by their unmistakable tusks. Commonly found in groups of 20 or more, it’s not an uncommon sight to see (and smell) a haul out in Spitsbergen, particularly on Prince Charles Island which is home to a colony.