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Wildlife in Greenland

Land, sea and sky will provide wildlife sightings regardless of which part of Greenland’s habitable coast you find yourself on, with animals living everywhere from inland meadows to ice-choked fjords.

Despite being the world’s largest island, Greenland’s human settlements are confined to its ice-free coast, with the island’s barren interior making up one of the world’s last great remaining wildernesses. This makes Greenland a top destination for intrepid travellers seeking the true meaning of wild. Harsh conditions and rugged terrain have spurned attempts at major development; this and the sheer size of the country makes it a haven for polar wildlife. Land, sea and sky will provide wildlife sightings regardless of which part of Greenland’s habitable coast you find yourself on, with animals living everywhere from inland meadows to ice-choked fjords.


Sailing between the fjord systems along the open coastline is the best way to catch a glimpse of its most famous tusked residents. Walruses can be seen along the northeastern coast of Greenland, but they rarely venture into the fjords that are frequented by ships in the summer months. If you’re planning to sail the seas of western Greenland, hauled-out walruses can be seen resting on ice floes in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait.


Despite there being just one natural forest in Greenland, many birds flock to the island's shores throughout the year. A total of 235 species of bird have been sighted in Greenland, but the majority leave its shores during the winter; around 60 species live here year-round. Notable species include the white-tailed eagle, the largest of all Greenland’s breeding birds, and the eider, a species of wildfowl that sometimes falls prey to the eagle. Fulmars and black guillemots are among the most common sights seen gliding across Greenland’s waters, while ptarmigans can be spotted all over the island. Atlantic puffins, snowy owls, ravens, cormorants and gyrfalcons – the largest falcon in the world – are also visitors to these shores.


Mostly found living along Greenland’s western coast or in the southwest, Greenland’s wild reindeer have been living here for thousands of years, and their ability to survive harsh polar winters has made them the most widespread land mammal in the country. Summer hikes inland are the best way of seeing these antlered animals, as they graze the hills and fells that become carpeted with grass and wildflowers after the winter snows.

Sl Nws Greenland Musk Ox Credit Andrew James


The Inuktitut name for muskoxen, umingmak, translates as “the bearded one”, for its the bovine’s long, shaggy coat.. The large mammals are native to the far north and northeast of Greenland, but there are introduced populations living up and down the west coast. Kangerlussuaq is perhaps the best place to see muskoxen in the wild, as a herd of almost 10,000 live in this area alone. On the east coast, trips to shore in small groups are the best way to encounter these amazing creatures where you can find them out on the tundra eating roots, mosses and lichens, as well as summer staples like grass and Arctic flowers. Muskox are sometimes skittish and prefer to stay away from the company of humans.


Fin, humpback and minke whales frequent Greenland’s southwest coast in the summer, from Qaqortoq up to Disko Bay. They may also occasionally be found in the country’s fjords, making for truly spectacular sightings when your boat is sharing the enclosed bodies of water with some of the largest creatures on the planet. About a dozen humpbacks make Nuuk Fjord their temporary home year after year, their acrobatic breaching and signature tail flukes signalling the beginning of summer for the capital’s population. More rarely, you may be able to spot blue, killer, pilot and sperm whales in the seas surrounding Greenland or on the crossing as you sail from Iceland to Greenland’s East Coast.

Narwhals are one of just three whale species that live in Greenland’s waters year-round; the fjords and inlets of western Greenland are the best place to spot them, although they can also be found in the northeast during the summer months. Snow-white belugas can be seen along the west coast of Greenland, particularly from Maniitsoq below the Arctic Circle to Disko Bay and all the way up to Qaanaaq in the High Arctic, swimming among the icebergs and ice floes, moving further north during the summer as they follow the breakup of the ice. Bowhead whales have the thickest layer of blubber of any animal and are typically found in the seas around Disko Bay during the spring, before setting course for the northern section of Baffin Bay as the summer begins.

Polar Bears

In Greenland, the world’s largest land-based predator lives and breeds mostly in the northeast and far northwest of the country, although your best chance of seeing them is by taking to the water, where the bears hitch rides on drifting pieces of ice. The polar bear is represented on Greenland’s official coat of arms, indicating its significance to the country and particularly its indigenous Inuit peoples.